Were Bill Cosby’s name not synonymous with mud right now, What We Did on Our Holiday could be easily titled Kids Say the Darndest Things. Big names like Rosamund Pike and David Tennant headline the film, but it’s the kids who steal the show. Writer/directors Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin take their experience from running BBC’s Outnumbered and utilize the improvisational skills of youngsters Emilia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge and Harriet Turnbull to pair off against legend Billy Connolly to make a charming summer comedy.
Gordy MacLeod’s (Billy Connolly) seventy-fifth birthday is coming up, and Doug (Doug Tennant) and Abi (Rosamund Pike, far removed from her Oscar-nominated performance as Amy in Gone Girl, playing a loving mother of two) are taking their three children on a trip to Scotland for a celebration of what may well be their grandfather’s last birthday. What Doug and Abbie don’t want to come up on this celebration is their pending divorce, which the kids, Lottie, Mickey and Jess (Emilia Jones, Bobby Smalldridge and Harriet Turnbull), are well aware of, and they need to maintain the secrecy for at least one more weekend. Gordy’s cancer treatments put a strain on his heart and Doug and Abi don’t want the stress of a divorce to put him in an early grave. Oddly enough, when the MacLeods arrive it’s obvious that they aren’t the only ones with guarded topics of conversation.
David’s brother, Gavin (Ben Miller) and wife Margaret (Amelia Bullmore) bury themselves in party planning to force an unpleasant viral video away from their minds. Meanwhile, Gordy is intent on avoiding any mention of his cancer, and naturally chooses to spend his time with the grandchildren he clearly favors. Too often children characters are thrown into the mix just to exasperate their onscreen parents, but these kids totally hold their own against Billy Connolly. Connolly’s timing is as perfect as ever and he bounces off the kids really well. The rest of the adults are clearly types, and lack the nuance of a really well-written comedy, but Tennant and Pike are well qualified to provide suitable reaction shots to some of the choice lines from Hamilton and Jenkin’s screenplay.
Recreating the dramedy of everyday life in a comedy is difficult. While Hamilton and Jenkin
can find the right mix on a weekly show with a lot of background informing that week’s episode, there isn’t enough time for Where What We Did On Our Holiday to do that in 95 minutes. With so many subplots and limited time, something is going to suffer, and the fumbling comes when a pleasant day at the beach takes a left turn during the second act. Such a shift would feel tonally jarring, fortunately, the three tots digest the heady, emotional material. It’s the media frenzy afterward that feels unnecessary. What We Did On Our Holiday fumbles toward the finish line with a finale that is both simplistic, and skirts over unresolved issues with supporting characters, but it does end happily.
Noting all those qualms, I still lean toward a positive rating for the film. Though some directing choices are mishandled, the exuberant charm of the cast is impossible to ignore. Tennant and Pike play a (un)loving couple without coming off as hateful, and every moment Billy Connolly shares with his three co-stars is a delight. Two good acts out of three is nothing to sneeze at, and with so many franchise extensions crowding theatres, something small and intimate is a welcome diversion. And, at the very least, the film offers some breath-taking views of the Highlands.