“This family’s in a rut.”
Family vacations are messy. You get stuck in traffic, lose luggage, get sick, start stupid fights. And that’s why they are memorable. You press on through the bad moments to finally arrive at the good ones. Vacation is all that and then some, proving that point while also creating its own identity. This isn’t a remake of the classic, and certainly won’t be a reboot after the disappointing box office numbers. Sitting in the theater, with cackles echoing across the walls, I jotted down in my notes, “Why am I laughing?” Parts are gross and cruel and dumb. Yet, the answer to my question was simple; because it is funny. This is not a great comedy, and doesn’t compare to the original, which it shouldn’t be. These Griswolds are their own kind of animal. 2015 has been an exceptionally awful year for the dying comedy genre. Vacation gives it hope.
Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) is all grown up, a pilot for a disgraced airline, and the spitting image of his dad Clark. He’s married to Debbie (Christina Applegate) and they are the proud parents of two sons. James (Skyler Gisondo) is the big brother with a soft side and about 5 different journals. Kevin (Steele Stebbins) is younger, but he’s a bully, toying with and picking on his pushover sibling. The Griswolds take a family summer vacation to a log cabin every year, and Rusty overhears the clan saying how much they dislike it. So, he channels his inner child and plans a trip to Walley World. It’s a Memorial Day Weekend road trip of 2560 miles, and from the very beginning every thing that can go wrong does go wrong. Rusty’s dream becomes his family’s nightmare.
Good comedies are harder to make than any other type of movie because what makes each of us laugh is not universal. Show a person dying and you’re bound to draw some kind of emotion. Show a person laughing and you’ll get a mixed bag. Comedies are also built on surprise. You can’t fully appreciate the joke when you already know the punchline. Because of that, I’m unwilling to say much about the actual story itself. Written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, Vacation has just as many gags and jokes that miss as it does ones that hit. But each time it goes off track, it serves as a leap pad for new laughs to surface. I’ll give one example only. In an awfully bad scene, Rusty literally drives an ATV through a steer. It’s disgusting and low humor. Moments later, the Griswolds are in the car, making little jokes that use wordplay involving moo, and steer, and pretty much anything you can think of. Just like an actual vacation, the movie has ugliness that transitions into a kind of witty beauty.
The filmmakers have a great cast to work with here and the smaller roles prove to be the most memorable. I mean, Ed Helms is flat-out great, but how many times have we seen him play this same role? It’s all been done by him before. What left me speechless was Chris Hemsworth’s performance. He is Stone, Rusty’s brother-in-law and rich national weatherman, and he’s hilarious. Hemsworth has a knack for comedy. Then there is Charlie Day as a recently dumped whitewater rafting guide. Day’s lone scene is the funniest thing I have seen in theaters so far this year. He puts the Griswolds in danger while he tries to end his own misery, and the background is filled with the song “Without You” by Harry Nilsson. If there is a word stronger than genius, the scene deserves it. This vacation doesn’t have the heart of the original, but it tries incredibly hard, and in an industry pushing out passionless and insouciant comedies, that amount of effort is both praiseworthy and admirable. Even if you shake your head at its sheer idiocy, you’ll be wearing a smile, because you can’t fight funny.
“The journey sucks, that’s what makes you appreciate the destination.”
Rating: 3.5 out of 5