The cult phenomenon that is "Mr. Bean" began in England as a series of TV specials that ran from 1990 to 1995. Catching on in America around the mid 1990s, the quirky series launched comedian Rowan Atkinson as an international celebrity thanks to his fidgety, bumbling title character. Rarely speaking, except in a near-bass grunt, always dressed in ill-fitting brown tweed, and rather rodent-looking, Mr. Bean is an instantly recognizable character who has as many fans as he has detractors. For some, his over-the-top shenanigans, usually the result of employing ridiculously complicated tactics to accomplish the simplest task, are comic gold. For others, they are irritating to no end. Since first catching site of Bean on PBS back in junior high, I must say that I have long been a devotee, and "Mr. Bean's Holiday" promised to be a real treat.
Only his second feature-length outing, following 1997's "Bean," "Mr. Bean's Holiday" is a virtually plotless series of disastrous escapades that begin when Mr. Bean wins an all-expense paid tour through the south of France in a church raffle. What starts out as a potentially fun vacation quickly degenerates (pretty much from the moment he steps on the train) into a madcap frenzy of misadventures. He makes his first major blunder when he accidentally separates a young Russian boy (Max Baldry) from his father (Karel Roden). Somewhat reluctantly taking responsibility for the boy, Bean puts his own plans aside to help him reunite with his father. Of course, in his own world of warped logic, Bean finds it more sensible to take the child from city to city in search of his father rather than just notifying the police.
Through a strange turn of events, Mr. Bean finds himself on the set of a frozen yogurt commercial directed by Carson Clay, an avant-garde American director (Willem Dafoe, a real surprise to see). There, he also meets Sabine (Emma de Caunes), an up-and-coming French actress who is on her way to the Cannes Film Festival. Hitching a ride with her, Bean and the boy find themselves surprisingly forming a familial bond, though they are all separated by language. Throughout all of this, Mr. Bean captures every manic moment on his digital camcorder, which serves him unexpectedly well once they finally reach Cannes.
Rowan Atkinson's physical comedy certainly owes a lot to the great silent comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and he has acknowledged the influence of Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot character (the title of this film is a nod to Tati's "M. Hulot's Holiday"). Whether lip-synching to Puccini's "O mio babbino caro" in the street for money or chasing after a runaway chicken, Atkinson's skinny frame and rubbery face allow him to fully express Mr. Bean's exasperation without words. Indeed, it is remarkable that at age 51, Atkinson still displays the astonishing limberness he had when he first appeared as the character 17 years ago. What separates Bean from his cinematic ancestors is his almost childlike deviousness and, at times, downright nastiness. Note an early scene in which he spills coffee on a sleeping train passenger's laptop, causing it to crash. He quickly pours the coffee from in between the keys back into his cup (!) and quietly sneaks away, leaving another unsuspecting passenger to take the blame. Atkinson's performance is all the more remarkable for making us care for a man who, under normal circumstances, would be intolerable.
As it is, many viewers simply cannot buy into this character or his shenanigans, and this film is not likely to win over any converts. Make no mistake, "Mr. Bean's Holiday" is quite the enjoyable romp for initiated fans, but somehow it never works as well as any of the original half-hour TV episodes. Perhaps it is the very bigness of the film as a whole that distracts from the central performance and character. With numerous pop songs, gorgeous location photography, and more prominent supporting characters, the film provides little of the quiet simplicity that made the TV series so uniquely hilarious. The movie puts Bean in a larger, foreign environment with which he is completely unfamiliar, as opposed to his usual English dwellings on the show, where his obliviousness is matched well with the other characters' blasé attitudes. As with many adaptations of TV sketches, another problem is simply the running time. Watching Mr. Bean for 30 minutes can be hilarious. Adding an hour to that will no doubt strike some as excessive. Though it may not be as funny as the source program, however, "Mr. Bean's Holiday" is still funnier than much of what passes as comedy today, and this can be credited to Atkinson, who completely disappears into his character and makes him such a believable presence, even in the most outrageous circumstances.
Universal Home Video brings the film to DVD in a sparkling transfer. Enhanced for widescreen TVs at 1.85:1, the film shows no signs of digital compression. The image is crisp and sharp, with excellent contrast and bright, popping colors. The film retains a yellow tinge throughout, emphasizing and sometimes exaggerating the warmer colors. Because of this, skin tones do not always look natural, but this is the film's intended look. The beautiful French locations benefit the most from this pleasing transfer.
Audio comes to us by way of Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in both English and French. Because dialogue is kept to a minimum, music and sound effects are most prominently featured. The many songs are presented clearly, and the louder effects are distributed around the speakers well. Particularly demonstrative is the yogurt commercial scene, which is designed to have a World War II setting (it must be seen to be believed) and features the expected wartime sound effects. English, Spanish, and French subtitles are also available.
Starting off the special features are 17 deleted scenes, collectively lasting 24 minutes. These are mostly extraneous, though there are some funny moments to be found here. In general, however, it is easy to see why these scenes were cut from the final film, as they add nothing significant and, in some cases, would merely drag the film on.
An 11-minute featurette, "French Beans," offers interviews and a brief behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. Atkinson, director Steve Bendelack, the writers, and producers all sit down for interviews, as well as co-stars Willem Dafoe, Emma de Caunes, and Max Baldry (whom I was surprised to learn is not Russian). This is pretty standard stuff, but interesting nonetheless. It never ceases to amaze me how sophisticated and eloquent Atkinson comes across in interviews in contrast to his warbling character.
"Beans in Cannes" is a six-minute featurette that reveals how the filmmakers were allowed to shoot the final Cannes Film Festival scenes at the actual Cannes Film Festival, using a real movie premiere as the fictitious one in the film. Once again, cast and crew are interviewed.
Lastly, "The Human Bean" features interviews with the usual suspects about the man behind the Bean. Cast and crew discuss Rowan Atkinson as an actor and a person, marveling at how he transforms into his character and meticulously plans out the physical comedy to look spontaneous. This featurette also lasts six minutes.
The bumbling foolishness of Mr. Bean has made him a worldwide sensation, and though he may be something of an acquired taste, he has certainly made his name in both television and film comedy. "Mr. Bean's Holiday" delivers some of the charm of the original series, and whatever it may lack, it is worth watching simply for Rowan Atkinson's dedicated performance. It is a marvel of sustained physical comedy, and that he will likely not be recognized come awards time is, while predictable, nonetheless disappointing.