Mr. Bean’s Holiday Is a Testament to Life (And a Pretty Great Road Trip Movie)

Movies Features Mr. Bean
Mr. Bean’s Holiday Is a Testament to Life (And a Pretty Great Road Trip Movie)

“This film is for all of us who hunger for truth. For all of us who cry out in pain. For those whose souls yearn to sing.” – Carson Clay
“He says it’s a very good film. Thank you.” – Translator

If you want to see a film about the meaning of life according to the first quote, check out Playback Time, the newest narcissistic work of art from Clay (Willem Dafoe), shown to an immediately bored Cannes Film Festival audience. If you want to see a film that captures the meaning of life according to its faux-translation, watch Mr. Bean’s Holiday.

I first saw Mr. Bean’s Holiday in theaters at age six, my parents searching for a G-rated movie to escape the late-summer heat. Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean was a stranger to me before then, as was the bumbling Brit’s first big-screen adventure, 1997’s Bean. In Bean, Bean is sent to America by his art museum colleagues, because they cannot wait to get rid of him and his incompetence. Bean screws up the lives of David Langley (Peter MacNicol) and his family, who are under the impression that Bean is an art historian and not just a security guard. But, in his own way, Bean manages to save the day, fixing a prized painting (which he previously destroyed) and—in a strange turn—becoming a doctor and saving Langley’s daughter from death. Bean is also a movie that mostly doesn’t work for me, perhaps because I was expecting something more similar to the standalone sequel that followed 10 years later—something more stylistic than straight slapstick.

If Bean is about the focused torture that is existing with Mr. Bean 24/7, then Mr. Bean’s Holiday gives us a more spread-out punishment of innocent bystanders, which lends to Bean’s likeability and makes his constant chaos much less tiresome. That’s good, because this movie depends upon us liking its central character, who makes his own movie along the way. Holiday follows the basic structure of any good road trip film: Bean wins a trip to sunny Cannes and a brand-new video camera to document it with; he tries to get there; chaos ensues. Oh, and along the way he accidentally kidnaps a child. Y’know, fun road trip shenanigans!

Of course, Bean did ask the boy’s father to record him outside the train, and can’t let him in when the doors close and separate him from his son, so this is a problem of his own making. But Bean genuinely tries to help Stepan (Maxim Baldry), first by making him laugh, and then by finding his dad, who will also be at the Cannes Film Festival. The two match energies, to the extent where Stepan begins to copy Bean’s movements. In one of the most heartfelt and goofy scenes, Bean and Stepan do an interpretive dance in hopes of earning money. There’s a strange understanding between them, even though they don’t speak the same language; humans helping each other along a journey, a tale as old as time.

The unlikely duo are then joined by Sabine (Emma de Caunes), an actress also racing to get to Cannes; she has a part in Carson Clay’s new film. It’s another example of Holiday collecting characters along the way, people that seem to be fleeting but are captured by the video camera Bean is constantly playing with. Notable among these is Clay, who gets another, more in-depth introduction when directing a yogurt commercial set in World War II for some reason. Dafoe relishes his role as an angry director who’s all too happy to yell at Bean before he’s inadvertently blown up when Bean charges his own video camera. Bean collects these little moments of life—like Clay and Sabine speaking to paparazzi before boarding the train to Cannes—for a callback collage later in the film, a perfect encapsulation about what life means.

This metaphorical encapsulation is made physical in Holiday’s final sequence. Clay’s film, Playback Time, is a perfect satire of the self-involved auteur, with multiple credits espousing his role in the movie that he’s also starring in. The crowd is bored, showing their own disapproval at the film’s gray bleakness as Holiday seems to give the Hollywood establishment some taste. Even Sabine’s role gets drastically cut down. But then, just as all seems lost and Clay’s narration mentions reliving the past, Bean plugs in his video camera. Good thing he’s one hell of an editor on the fly.

The ensuing montage shows clips of Sabine while Clay reminisces about a lost love, clips of Bean while Clay ponders what his past lover’s new beau might be—all scenes we’ve seen before that come together into a beautiful big picture. Sure, a more cynical view might take the flawless matching up of Bean’s home videos with Clay’s dialogue as a symbol that there is no real artistry in this cinema verité. But to me, it’s a sign that the best moments are unplanned. The audience loves it, recognizing “real art,” and Clay comes around in the end, if only to save face and take credit for the innovative shooting style.

Bean’s montage is an unplanned mistake, an unlikely miracle, but what is art—and life—but a series of mistakes? If everything had gone right on Bean’s trip to Cannes, there would be no movie—not only this award-winning in-universe scene, but no Mr. Bean’s Holiday. The finale brings Bean to the beach at Cannes, concluding in a flash mob performance of “La Mer” with everyone from Carson Clay to Stepan’s father to Jean Rochefort’s maître d’ from an earlier restaurant encounter between Bean and a seafood platter. Everyone we’ve met along the way is together, serving as both summary and metaphor of how the journey has made its mark, even when we reach the destination.

I liken this to my experience on a college orientation canoeing trip. My group got lost in the New Hampshire woods, facing confusing directions and campers who threw tennis balls at us, before we had to tie our canoes together and be pulled to shore by motorboat. Now I’m getting ready to lead a trip of my own, a college senior who is supposedly an adult, and I’m terrified that I don’t know what I’m doing. My college experience is nothing like I expected it to be and at times I feel stagnant, stuck in time. But thinking back to that canoe trip, watching the videos of us seeing the sunset while being pulled across the river, I realize it’s one of my favorite memories—in no small part because of the people I spent it with. Literally everything can go wrong, yet still go right.

It’s cliché to say that life is about the journey and not the destination, but I hope it’s a little less so to say that chaos is an inextricable part of life, as in art. While it’s theoretically possible to plan both, the unplanned happens all the time, and some of the best art reflects the small miracles that chaos has a way of creating. The best we can do is pick up our feet and enjoy the ride with Mr. Bean, pleading that he doesn’t leave his luggage behind or accidentally kidnap another child.

Catie McCarthy is a geography student, knitter, and film score connoisseur who is still holding out hope for another season of Timeless. She has written for The Dartmouth and The Daily Fandom. Talk to her about Moonfall on Twitter.

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