A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 550 – Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure – September 1st, 2011

I’ll be honest, I’m really losing steam on these reviews. I think after over five hundred movies and reviews it’s only to be expected. When I have something really solid to say about a movie it’s easy to bang out a review. If I love something and have a personal connection or history with it, if it’s got a whole of depth to it, or if I flat out hate it and resent owning it then I find it a lot easier to write about it. If something’s mildly amusing, mildly interesting, mildly offensive, or just mild in general? That doesn’t give me much to go on. And I know people love this movie. I know it’s part of movie geek culture and people make references to it and many quotes have entered the common lexicon. I’m afraid I just can’t bring myself to care much one way or the other.

I know, I know. Who the hell am I and who do I think I am, writing movie reviews when I don’t much care about Pee-wee Herman and his super shiny red bike and his trip to the basement of the Alamo? I don’t know. I just find Pee-wee grating as a character. I always have. I didn’t see this movie when it came out in theaters (I was about six years old and my parents avoided movie theaters like the plague until I was in high school) and somehow, while I was an avid viewer of Saturday morning shows as a kid, I never really watched Pee-wee’s Playhouse unless I was visiting a friend. I always found it overly loud and frenetic and Pee-wee himself was sort of like a combination of every younger sibling stereotype ever. Just watch the “I know you are, but what am I?” sequence in this movie for an example. That one exchange makes me want to hide my head under a pillow. The rest of the movie doesn’t bother me like that, but it’s indicative of my long-standing issues with the character, which in turn equalled a complete lack of interest in this movie. Sorry.

Sure, it’s got its charms and I do appreciate its idiosyncratic nature, just as a thing that exists in the world. Pee-wee himself is very much an overgrown child. He’s a man who exists in a sort of limbo state where it’s okay for him to act like he’s about nine years old, but he also owns a house and has a super high tech security system and later on is made an honorary member of a biker gang. He has a longstanding rivalry with a neighbor named Francis, who announces to Pee-wee that it’s his birthday and his father has told him he can have anything he wants (and he wants Pee-wee’s super special bike – but it’s not for sale). Later on, Pee-wee interrupts Francis’ bath time to accuse him of stealing the bike and they have a knock down drag out fight in a bathtub that’s more like a pool, full of toys and suds. They are children, but not. So the whole movie takes place in a world where that’s just accepted. That’s just how it is.

The theft of the bike is really the plot of the film. Pee-wee’s bike goes missing while he’s out getting a new (louder) horn for it and he embarks on a road trip quest to get it back. He accuses Francis, who is guilty but doesn’t have the bike because he hired someone else to steal it. When he decides he doesn’t want it he tells his hired thief to just get rid of it. Pee-wee, desperate to get the bike back, goes to see a psychic, who has no clue where the bike is but makes up an answer: The basement of the Alamo. So off Pee-wee goes, hitching a ride with an escaped convict, a ghostly truck driver and eventually reaching the Alamo only to find that there’s no basement there. When he sees that his bike is being given to a young movie star he heads to Hollywood, eventually making chaos on the sets of several movies, which in turn earns the attention of a producer who decides to make Pee-wee’s story into a movie. And so he takes his bike to the drive in to watch it, surrounded by all the people he met along the way.

To understand the tone of the movie you really just need to watch the opening scene, where Pee-wee goes through his morning routine, which includes pretending to be a mad dog with his mouth full of toothpaste foam, and using a Rube Goldberg-esque machine to make his breakfast, which he then eats with giant utensils. That right there gives you the basics on Pee-Wee Herman, and that in turn gives you the basics for the movie’s mood. It’s goofy and silly and self-aware to an almost painful degree. It takes place in its own little world and likes it that way. It’s not necessarily a movie for kids, but the characters are often childish, so I know the appeal is there. It is, to use a word I’m not fond of but find inescapable here, wacky.

It’s just all a little much for me. It’s got fun bits. It’s got lines I recognize and find easy to reference. It’s got moments I’ve remembered since I first saw it. And I’ve got to say, I’ve seen and enjoyed Paul Reubens in other things, so it’s not him as an actor. It’s Pee-wee and the world he inhabits. I don’t really like the whole “man child” thing, really. Which means that the character will never click for me. Which means this movie will never click for me. It pushes the wrong buttons and it’s a personal taste thing. I feel like I have to apologize for it, but I shouldn’t. That’s just how it is.

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September 1, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | ,

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