Crass, misfired “Vacation” is a definite save-your-money for a better movie
Today’s culture is dominated by nostalgia. The current purveyors of socially driven media find that people respond positively to lists featuring popular toys from the ’80s, or fringe characters from ’90s Nickelodeon shows, or songs that are mostly terrible but for some reason defined a minor moment in an otherwise trivial life. It seems that the current generation is obsessed with the things they once owned, or watched, or otherwise consumed during their childhood.
However, anyone that’s seen a “Vacation” movie knows that millennials don’t have exclusive rights to wistful remembrances (hell, establishment Republicans tend to base their entire political ideology on it).
Clark W. Griswold waxed nostalgic in each and every “Vacation” film, hoping to recreate the beautiful family moments he remembered from his childhood with his largely uninterested and longsuffering family. The joke wore thin as the sequels rose in number, but both the original “Vacation” and the surprising “Christmas Vacation” captured something timeless and universal: quality family time is shared misery that is endured, processed, and regurgitated many years later as unabashed happiness.
The new “Vacation” movie, starring Ed Helms and Christina Applegate, is a retread on these themes, but with an overdose of vulgarity. The original “Vacation” films walked the line between the crass and the acceptable, likely pushing those boundaries more in 1983 than it seems now. And yet, while I’m no prude when it comes to content, the reboot is overwhelmingly coarse and the tone just feels wrong.
In 2015’s “Vacation,” Rusty is a grown man with a family of his own, a nice house in the Chicago suburbs, and boring job as a regional airline pilot. His marriage, it seems, has grown stale. In order to shake things up, Rusty decides to take his family to Wally World in California, despite no one in the family having ever heard of the theme park.
Rather than using his connections to fly west, Rusty rents an Albanian sedan with amusingly dangerous features (and six ash trays!) to take his family on what he hopes will be the trip of a lifetime. It is, essentially, a carbon copy of the plot of the 1983 film with more f-bombs and sex jokes.
The largest problem with the film is that the eccentricities are spread throughout the family rather than concentrated in one character. In the 1983 film, Chevy Chase (and to a lesser extent Randy Quaid) carried the absurdity on his shoulders.
The family essentially played the straight man forced to deal with a crazy person. In the reboot, each member has their own thing—the youngest son is a foul-mouthed bully, the older son a weak, nerdy poet, and the mother is a former sorority girl nicknamed “Debbie Do Anything.” Rusty is the straight man in his own “Vacation” film. This sounds like typical Hollywood sequel writing. You can almost hear the conversation inside the studio:
“How about instead of a crazy dad…there’s a crazy family?”
“That’s gold! It’s turning the whole franchise on its ear!”
Instead of allowing a capable comic actor like Ed Hems to use his talent, the filmmakers chose to coast by on weak jokes about genitalia. This isn’t to say that the film is devoid of humor. The humor is, as it always was, found in the familiar situations. An awkward father trying to help his son with a girl. Getting advice from a local. An unfamiliar vehicle with a broken GPS.
These moments are relatable and recognizable. Most frustrating is that the filmmakers seemed to understand the importance of shared experience—and deliberately chose to be crass rather than clever.
That said, if you are a diehard “Vacation” fan, the reboot won’t anger you any more than “Vegas Vacation,” although the 2015 film might feature too much Chevy Chase, only onscreen for three or four minutes. But for a film rooted in nostalgia, this year’s “Vacation” doesn’t trust its own memory enough to do the original film justice.
I’d say it’s a shame, but then I’m not sure how much the country was clamoring for more antics involving the Griswold family. Perhaps it’s best to just let the franchise stay where it belongs—repeating over and over again on basic cable.