What We Did on Our Holiday – Review by Cormac Fitzgerald
Directed by: And Hamilton and Guy Jenkin
Starring: Billy Connolly, Rosamund Pike, David Tenant,
Release Date: 23 September 2014
What We Did on Our Holiday is a comedy-drama that follows the trials and tribulations of the McLeod family on their trip from London to Scotland. The movie opens with parents Doug and Abi, played by David Tenant and Rosamund Pike, trying to usher their three children into the car and get away on their trip to visit Doug’s father, Gordy (Billy Connolly), for his 75thbirthday.
The parents bustle and fumble to get things going, whereas the children are at ease watching the end of a Viking movie, or deciding which rock to bring on holiday – a taster, it could be said, of things to come. So it seems the writers and directors, Any Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, who also wrote the BBC One sitcom, Outnumbered, which has the same family set up, are treading very familiar ground.
The twist here, however, is that Doug and Abi are set to split up, a fact that their children are aware of, but one that the unhappy couple wish to keep from Doug’s father, who is dying of cancer. So, off they plot to Scotland to visit Gordy and also Doug’s social-climbing, materialistic brother, Gavin (played by Ben Miller), his nervous wife Margaret and their son. And so let the dysfunctional family games begin! There is a huge party arranged for Gordy which he doesn’t want, Doug and Gavin argue, the children run wild, Margaret frets, Doug and Abi argue – one particular scene where they argue while Abi sits on the toilet is notable for its strangeness. The film veers constantly between hilarity and sadness, with the two in conflict rather than co-existing. This isn’t helped by the misjudged editing, which abruptly ends scenes and combines ones that don’t go well together.
While there are some genuine funny moments, mostly delivered by the kids, many of the jokes fall flat: easy jabs at materialism, city living and money rarely hit the mark and some of the humour is just downright bizarre – the scene in the toilet springs to mind. Connolly, for his part, does a good turn as the sagely, kindly Grandfather. He is equal parts funny and wise, interacting well with each of his grandchildren, veering between fart jokes and nuggets of wisdom: “A lot of life doesn’t look very good written down,” he tells bookish Lottie, eldest of the children.
As the movie progresses, the sad moments really start to outweigh the funny ones. The twists and turns of the last half an hour are hard to keep up with and, while some are predictable, some will definitely take you buy surprise. It is in these moments that the children truly shine. The script seems made for them rather than their elders: their witty observations, casual asides and no-nonsense natures provide the movie with its funniest moments. It’s hard to shake the feeling that if the directors had made better use of their capable adult stars a much better movie would have been made.
What We Did on Our Holidays veers between moments of humour and seriousness before settling on sentimentality. The plot never fully takes off, and while it may lead to a few shed tears or belly- laughs, what we’re left with is an overly sentimental, run of the mill comedy that hints at something more but never quite delivers.