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Family Movie Review: What We Did On Our Holiday (PG-13)

WhatWeDidOnOurHoliday ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 96 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 13+. The film is a family drama, so there is some cursing, some language, some jokes about sex and homosexuality, talk about extramarital affairs, adults drinking alcohol, a scene where parents take their young children to the bathroom with them, some potty humor, and a beloved family member dying.

A dysfunctional family is at the center of ‘What We Did On Our Holiday,’ which tries to argue that everyone can get along if they’re just nicer to each other. It’s a fine thought, although the film takes its time making it.

By Roxana Hadadi

Every family has problems, but perhaps not as many as the group at the center of “What We Did On Our Holiday.” The parents are separated; the children know about it and are acting out in weird ways; the extended relatives are judgmental; the eccentric grandfather is dying. There is too much going on in “What We Did On Our Holiday” for the film to really focus, but at least the final message encouraging more civility and politeness to each other is a nice one.

It takes a while to get there, though. “What We Did On Our Holiday” begins with a London family of which the parents, Doug (David Tennant, of “The Pirates! Band of Misfits”) and Abi (Rosamund Pike, of “The World’s End”) are separated; their three children know that Doug’s infidelity is what caused him to move out, but they’re too young (about 4, 8, and 12) to fully grasp what it all means. It’s only the eldest daughter, Lottie (Emilia Jones, of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”), who truly understands what’s going on, and she’s so anxious about how often her parents fight and lie to each other and to them that she’s started a journal to keep track of it all.

The family isn’t really getting along well, but they’re expected in Scotland, where Doug’s stuck-up financier brother and his depressed, skittish wife are throwing Doug’s father a lavish 75th birthday party. Gordie (Billy Connolly, of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”) has been battling cancer, but what the children don’t know is that he’s dying of it – until Lottie overhears the adults arguing about it, of course.

So the weekend becomes not only a celebration of Doug’s life, but perhaps the end of it – along with fights between Doug and Abi, Doug and his brother, Abi and his brother, and a variety of other arguments. No one really seems to listen to what Gordie wants except for the children, and how they act on his request is a decision that could harm the family forever.

Tonally, “What We Did On Our Holiday” is all over the place. Part of that is because the family at the heart of the film is so at odds with each other that almost every normal conversation devolves into a fight, shifting the tone from faux-pleasant to outright-diabolical quite often, but there’s also a weird rhythm here. Practically every scene with Connolly, as the strange but genuine family patriarch, is touching and earnest, even if his advice about appreciating life more is fairly obvious. But then Pike and Tennant are throwing barbs at each other constantly, and the children are just a bundle of weird quirks instead of real characters (the youngest girl talks to rocks; the middle boy thinks he sees Vikings everywhere), and there is no real flow to it. Things get too abrasive for it to really be immersive.

Nevertheless, maybe that’s how families can really be, and maybe that’s the honesty of “What We Did On Our Holiday.” As frustrating as the familial interactions are, perhaps that’s because they feel familiar. And as simplistic as Gordie’s advice about having a sense of humor and paying more attention to one’s family is (“You need to live more and think less”), maybe that’s the best kind of advice. It’s not that “What We Did On Our Holiday” is a bad film, but it takes a while to get its footing and to feel like it’s saying anything worthwhile. If you can wait it out, though, there’s a lesson here worth listening to, even if you’ve heard it before.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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