“Rusty, crack open those sandwiches I got at the gas station. I’m so hungry I could eat a sandwich from the gas station.”
Holiday road A-OH-OHH-A-OH-OHH-A-OH-OHH-! Summertime means Vacation time, and Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants to use this time to get closer to his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), and kids Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall), and Audrey (Dana Barron). Where is the destination? Wally World, an amusement park all the way in Los Angeles.
Are they flying over 2,000 miles from Chicago to LA? Nope, they are driving, because getting there is half the fun. From the get go, things do not go as planned, starting with the Wagon Queen Family Truckster instead of the hot Super Blue Sports Wagon. The mishaps only get worse and worse and the family gets closer and closer to see Marty Moose, but Clark is determined to follow through on this vacation—er…quest—for fun.
When it comes to the National Lampoon’s Vacation series, there are two movies that are unequivocally the best: the one that is plainly known as Vacation, and Christmas Vacation. A coin can be flipped, but they are one and two in some order. The defining factor for yours truly? It always feels weird watching Christmas Vacation or any movie Christmas-centric when it isn’t Christmas, whereas the Harold Ramis-directed Vacation can be taken viewed anytime, even if it is a little dated visually.
Vacation is simplistic. Like the Griswold’s trip, it is point A to point B; there are just a lot of curves and zig-zags to get there. And they are all hilarious, in part because so many people can relate to what this family encounters on their trip. Not exactly in the specific, sometimes bizarre and sometimes true to real-life scenarios Clark and clan find themselves in, but in the idea that anything can and almost certainly will go wrong in some big or small fashion when driving cross-country with loved ones.
For a R-rated comedy (the R rating is obviously different now than it was in 1983), Vacation, while featuring some befitting foul language, is actually rather tame. The humor primarily comes from the high-quality dialogue written by the the man who seemed to be a part of every notable 1980’s teen movie, John Hughes. This isn’t very descriptive, but the dialogue just feels extremely natural, like how an average family would talk to each other. And, when characters talk about vulgar things, which isn’t really a ton, it is subtly done instead of being in-your-face. Yours truly doesn’t mind explicit language, but so many adult comedies often feel the need to resort to an endless barrage of *f**k, s**t, and b***h, in lieu of leaning on their cast and trusting in the less can occasionally be more approach.
Speaking of the cast, Chevy Chase absolutely knocks it out of the park as Clark Griswold. He is a master of delivery and timing, and knows how to draw laughs just by standing idly and doing nothing. In spite of everything that goes haywire, his character Clark carries this look and belief that “this is how things are supposed to happen and it will only get better.” It hardly does, and his unrelenting steadfastness provides comedy time and time again, not to mention unforgettable quotables eventually leading to a legendary monologue.
He serves up jokes but is often the butt of them, delivered by his family. There’s something organic about Beverly D’Angelo as a basic wife and mother, nothing that is inherently funny about being a mother in this, but she is very believable and most importantly has great chemistry with Chase. So many kids in family/comedy films often add nothing and end up being annoying. Not the case with the performers playing Audrey and Rusty, who are generally funny in being understated and playing off of their on-screen dad. There are other bit players outside of the family, including a pimp in the slums of St. Louis in a scene that may now be considered offensive, but still downright gut-busting. The only person who comes close to outshining Chevy is Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie in his short screentime. The man may be a possible nutcase now, but at the very least he will always make me wonder if Hamburger Helper really needs the hamburger.
Inferior family vacation films like RV, Johnson Family Vacation, and College Road Trip owe a lot, if not everything, to National Lampoon’s Vacation, as it has created a template that, although simplistic, has been proven hard to replicate. This ride to Wally World never gets old.
Photo credits go to craveonline.com, carlustblog.com, pinterest.com, and reignmag.com
Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson