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The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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When asked to name a few “guilty pleasures” film critic David Ansen said that if you liked a movie, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.

But when you absolutely love a movie that only earns a 50% on the tomatometer, maybe it’s safer to call it a “guilty pleasure.”

If that’s so, then Mr. Bean’s Holiday is my latest guilty pleasure.

Silent Comedy

Watch it once a year or as needed
Watch it once a year or as needed

Mr. Bean was a BBC TV hit in the 1990s, and it enjoyed much success in the States on PBS. Set in modern times, the humor recalled classic silent comedians such as Jacques Tati, Harold Lloyd, and Charlie Chaplin.

My favorite episode involved some impressive grace and skill on the part of the gangly Atkinson — he arrives at a beach in his usual tweed suit, white shirt, and red tie, only to find another sunbather in his spot. There’s no changing booth so Bean, over the course of a good six or seven minutes, squeezes into his trunks and out of his tweed without ever once exposing himself. The feat is amazing, and there’s also a punchline that, in an instant, makes the whole scene twice as funny.

An apparent homage to Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, Mr. Bean’s Holiday is excellent, and for fans of the show, it’s absolutely essential. The movie makes no mistakes, has no dry spells, and never tries a joke that doesn’t work.

Bean in Cannes

The setup is that Mr. Bean has won a church raffle. He gets a vacation to Cannes — along with a brand-new video camera. It’s essentially a road movie across France as Bean travels by train, foot, bicycle, scooter, and Mini across France. The movie is episodic, which works perfectly with Atkinson’s style of humor. A scene runs for six or seven minutes while Atkinson milks it for every last laugh, and then the plot moves along to the next scene.

The beauty of Mr. Bean’s Holiday is that there is a larger, overarching story that slowly builds throughout the film, and which is paid off at the end. So the movie is not just a collection short skits, strung together by a thin thread of plot. There is a second-level story with second-level jokes that makes Mr. Bean’s Holiday a much better film than its predecessor.

There are many reasons to love Mr. Bean’s Holiday. I love the fact that it’s G-Rated without being “for kids,” proving that “G” doesn’t have to mean “infantile.” I love that Mr. Bean’s Holiday doesn’t resort to body-function jokes. Neither Jacques Tati nor Harold Lloyd nor Charlie Chaplin ever lowered themselves to that level, and I appreciate that Atkinson keeps it above the waist. (Okay, there’s a bit of a grossout as Mr. Bean forces himself to eat an oyster. But Chaplin ate a shoe in The Gold Rush, so I think that’s fair game.)

I’ll grant that there were a few cuts that didn’t make perfect sense but I assume the movie was trimmed to be shorter, tighter and funnier. If that means there are a few rough edges, I’m willing to overlook them.

You can dismiss the sight gag as a low form of art, but it is an art. Look at Tati, Keaton, and Lloyd if you have doubts. Today, few comedians even attempt to set up a good sight gag (is Roberto Benigni the only other film star to do so?), and none are better at it than Atkinson.

DVD Extras

The deleted scenes are just a batch of gags that didn’t make it into the movie. Some were written to serve the story, and those were rightfully cut. But some of them are sight gags that are actually pretty good. I’d guess they’re the ones that didn’t test well with audiences, but I was happy to be able to see them.

French Beans is basically a making-of documentary, with a slight focus on France. The writer of the story, Simon McBurney (you might recognize his face from The Last King of Scotland or Friends with Money) explains that by putting Bean where he can’t speak the language gives you a great excuse for “silent” comedy. And part of Atkinson’s job was to avoid getting a tan working all day in the French sun. Atkinson goes on-camera for just a few seconds in these segments. He comes across as a class act, humble, intelligent, and not too coy to talk about his craft. It’s too bad there isn’t more footage of Atkinson in the extra features.

Beans in Cannes is a featurette focused on the scene at Cannes. Yes, they actually shot at Cannes, during the festival, and they even got to use one of the auditoriums for their long final scene.

The Human Bean is that featurette, the one on every studio-authorized DVD where all of the cast and crew praise each other’s talent and hard work. Although I’ve come to loathe that featurette, I admire Atkinson for his craft, so I was happy to hear others heaping praise on him.

Picture and Sound

This DVD looks and sounds as good as can be expected. The visuals are impressive in one or two scenes — there is a scene where Atkinson stands isolated in front of a field of green grass with tiny yellow flowers. It’s absolutely gorgeous on a good TV.

How to Use This DVD

When you’re feeling depressed, pop in Mr. Bean’s Holiday and laugh yourself silly. Repeat once a year, or as needed. Try not to feel the need to justify your guilty pleasure to Bean skeptics.

  • Megan Alfaro: Dear Marty,

    Thank you for this tasteful article. I am a film lover myself and appreciate artful films. Generally my taste follows the independent or dramatic movies, and I am more likely than not to agree with the ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. However, in the case of Mr. Bean, I too find it an exception. Perhaps it's my appreciation for the classic humor from the silent era, but this film is one of my favorites. I find that is it beautifully shot, and you said it well when you said the movie made no mistakes. Well written, carefully crafted, and artfully accomplished.

    However, I realize my affection for Mr. Bean's Holiday isn't widely shared and I appreciate your wise encouragement not to try to convince the Mr. Bean Skeptics. The reason I read your article today is because I was made the laughing stock of our office when I tried to explain what it is I love about that film. I wanted to see if there was another critic out there who appreciates the film and I followed the link to your article from Rotten Tomatoes. Thanks very much for the review. Glad you took the risk to write about it.

    Sincerely,

    Megan
    June 1, 2012 reply