In what Rowan Atkinson has called his last feature outing as the childish accidental prankster Mr. Bean, this bookend sequel to Bean (1997) is a highly enjoyable family comedy for every unadorned moment of Mr. Atkinson’s comic genius. The British, deep-but-squawky-voiced, Mr. Bean wins a church raffle for a vacation to the South of France that includes all of 200 euros and a digital mini-cam to record his holiday.
Accompanied by an arsenal of goofy faces, high-water pants and a brown winter blazer, Mr. Bean leaves a trail of disaster everywhere he goes. Bean’s impromptu photo session with a fellow traveler, Russian film director Emil (Karel Roden), strands the man on a train platform away from his son Stepan (Max Baldry), who Mr. Bean must chaperone on the train to Cannes.
It’s impossible to overestimate Rowan Atkinson’s skills as a comic. The nerdy Oxford graduate draws effortlessly on the performance vocabularies of comedians like Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati (M. Hulot’s Holiday) while creating a curious man hampered with the brain of a nine-year-old boy.
There’s a signature Bean sequence in a fancy Parisian restaurant where the maitre d’ (Jean Rochefort) mistakenly seats Mr. Bean, and takes the liberty of bringing out a seafood platter consisting of giant shrimp and oysters. Bean proceeds to consume one of the large crustaceans—shell, claws, head and all-from the back end as a naturally grotesque act of buffoonery. He goes on to make a show for the dining room manager by pretending to enjoy the oysters that he secretly spills into a napkin before pouring its slimy contents into the open purse of a nearby patron, whose sticky cell phone soon rings.
The universally accessible camp amusement builds to a breaking point when Bean tries to cheer up the lonely little Stepan by making a host of rubbery faces that cost him a slap in the face from the cheeky lad. Atkinson’s painstaking choreography and unflappable timing draws laughs when Bean busks for money at an outdoor provincial market by dancing and mouthing lyrics to songs ranging from pop to opera. It’s one of the funniest sequences and taps into the depth of Atkinson’s physical burlesque.
Mr. Bean’s Holiday gains texture from the inclusion of simultaneous footage filmed on Mr. Bean’s video camera during the vacation. The recurring film-inside-a-film device shifts the road movie episodes to a subjective viewpoint that lets the audience in on Bean’s boyish mindset. Good use is made of Cannes as a properly pronounced destination where insufferable American arthouse director Carson Clay (Willem Dafoe) is premiering his self-produced, directed, written and acted, navel-gazing vehicle Playback Time. The humor wanes here primarily because Dafoe is not a comic actor, but also because his character barely reacts to Mr. Bean’s outre shenanigans.
Atkinson’s humor, as a British-inflected vindictive mime, walks a fine line between irreverence, anarchy and innocence. As with the skits of Monty Python, there’s nothing highbrow about it, and yet there is such art and irony at play that the sophistication is unmistakable. Mr. Bean’s Holiday is an immediate classic because its comic traditions are so faithfully employed at every level of execution.
There’s something Shakespearean in the way director Steve Bendelack and his ensemble join in celebrating a fresh approach to a comic heritage that Rowan Atkinson perfected while working with the BBC-produced television show Not the Nine O’ Clock News. What could be next, a Jackie Chan and Rowan Atkinson buddy picture where Atkinson is the martial artist? MTW