When you’ve got a dream to take your family (or yourself) to Wally World (or a raunchy summer comedy at 10 o’clock in the evening), never let that go. Or let it go just once, because you’re tired and the weekend is better for seeing movies anyway.
Advice taken, Mr. Griswold.
The original Vacation, starring Chevy Chase as the earnest and oafish Clark Griswold and Beverly D’Angelo as his excellent straight woman wife, Helen, is, quite frankly, one of the best comedy films in the history of American cinema. The saga of the Griswold clan as they travel through 2,000 miles of existential hell is still, to this day, laugh out loud funny (and that computer Clark plans their trip with? Watching that scene on Blu-Ray in 2015 is a bit of a mind melter). It is that classic which the new Vacation, borrowing the same title, seeks to both pay tribute to and emulate.
It succeeds, but only partially, on both counts.
The new star is the freckle-faced youngest son of the Griswold clan, Rusty (Ed Helms), all grown up and with an awkward family situation of his own. His wife is bored, his awkward and gifted oldest boy is socially struggling, and his youngest is a hellion with a vulgar vocabulary and a proclivity for beating up his brother. Rusty’s solution? A cross country road trip to Wally World, so they can bond as a unit.
If that sounds like a bit of a thin set up, it’s because it is. Rusty seems to have completely forgotten that the original Griswold vacation, the template for his own, was a complete nightmare. While it did end up with the hackneyed resuscitation of familial ties, the journey was about surviving the ravages of his father’s incompetence and the dangers middle America can throw at an unwary traveler. To put it simply, why does Rusty think this is a good idea? Did he feel it was all worth it in spite of the fiasco it became? I’d have liked the script to tell me.
His family is skeptical themselves, but Rusty takes after his Dad as a genuine, loving blowhard, and before we know it, the Griswolds of 2015 are off on a cross country journey in their Albanian Prancer (a car that also serves as possibly the funniest recurring gag in the movie). Spoiler alert: hijinks ensue, as the journey goes awry well before the destination is reached.
What works? Ed Helms and Christina Applegate have fantastic comedic chemistry, and several of their scenes and exchanges are quite funny. Applegate herself gets the spotlight in a couple of great bits that had my theatre erupting. Skyler Gisondo probably steals the movie as Kevin Griswold, the eldest son, a musician/nerd/poet struggling to find his footing in both the world and his family. He’s painfully awkward and hilariously aware. Gisondo’s facial expressions in the face of the absurdity he encounters were often the funniest part of a handful of scenes that, without him, just wouldn’t have worked at all.
The plot hews close to that of the original without being a glorified remake. The fact that the writing displays some self-awareness of this fact helps it land in a workable spot. And several scenes are legitimately, gut-bustingly funny.
What doesn’t work? The laughs are too inconsistent. A vulgar comedy that seeks to shock with the outrageous as a key component of its humor can’t afford to go too long without landing a good gag. Vacation, unfortunately, has several stretches that qualify as mirthless doldrums. This makes the movie feel longer than it is, and it doesn’t even run two hours.
Extreme awkwardness is used as one of the primary tools in the movie’s box, but a line is crossed at a certain point in a scene that just devolves into discomfort. Save the few extremely uncomfortable chuckles from the crowd in the theatre, it really doesn’t work as intended. There are a couple of attempts at old-fashioned gross-out humor, and those punches don’t land smoothly either. Finally, the movie ends on something of a whimper, not the bang of the original.
Vacation is easy to recommend to fans of the original and to those who can appreciate great gags, even when they aren’t necessarily wrapped in a great movie. I definitely felt I got the laugh value out of the time and cost of a matinee ticket I spent to see it. Some good comedy in the center of my day can turn any frown I may be packing upside down, and Vacation delivered that. That’s what it set out to do, and I don’t think it needs to be any more than that.
A highbrow patron of the cinematic arts, someone who is looking to pick it apart like a high school essay, or someone who finds vulgar comedy to be distasteful or ineffective probably won’t share my experience. Oh, and if you’re looking for a family movie, you won’t find it here, unless you want your impressionable little ones dropping the F bomb like sailors for the next few weeks. in which case, more power to you, parents of the year.
Vacation is a funny film about family foibles, both a tribute to, and a product of, the legendary original. If you’re looking for some summer laughs, take a ride with the Griswolds.
About Our Rating System: The Loresworn Order reviews games, movies, TV, books, and music on a four-point scale.
- No Medal, “Not Recommended”
- Bronze, “Okay”
- Silver, “Good!”
- Gold, “Great!”