Directed by: John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein
The Plot: The road to hell is paved in good intentions. In the case of the 32-year-old Vacation franchise, the road to hell has now been paved exactly twice. When an adult Rusty Griswold (Helms) realizes that taking his family on the same Summer camping trip every year is putting his wife (Applegate) to sleep, and isn’t exactly bringing him any closer to his two sons (Gisondo, Stebbins) he decides to make a bold move and take a road trip across the country to the Walley World theme park in Los Angeles California. A road trip that his father (Chase) once attempted a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
The Film: It should be noted that as far as comedies go, I’m a cheap date. Laughs equal stars for this kid. Though my compatriots sitting in the press seats with the sour looks on their pusses are going to warn you away from this sequel (and Vacation is a sequel, not a reboot) by telling you that it’s lewd instead of lurid, crude instead of creative, derivative instead of droll – a film willing to throw an entire family into a septic cesspool for our immediate entertainment – just remember that no matter what misdemeanor crimes it may commit against those with a finicky sense of humor, Vacation is a very, very funny film.
Pushing up against the limits of what you can get away with in an R-rated comedy, Vacation 2015 harkens back to the original John Hughes scripted film from 1983. It’s a movie about a road trip across the heartland of Americana, and ultimately into the nightmare landscape of American raunch.
Little Rusty Griswold has become his own man and has decided to take a run at the one vacation that almost destroyed his family 32 years before. A 2,000 mile cuss-fueled odyssey through tourist stops, roadside motels, and outdoor adventures, with the fictional haven Walley World as the ultimate prize for being stuck in an Albanian family car, (the very push-me-pull-you Tartan Prancer – a madly complicated minivan that is quite possibly the scene-stealer of the year) with the wife and kids for seven straight days.
Sure, it’s a situational comedy. A comedy of errors. A comedy relying heavily on gags by every definition of the word. (I’m recalling Russ punching a quadrunner through the center of a live cow in this film) A comedy built with the classical masculine mind in mind.
Which isn’t nearly as stupid as it sounds.
In simple English, Vacation is wonderfully uncomplicated, unflinchingly dirty, and in the spirit of early 80’s American cinema, strikes the perfect Summer vacation tone so often neglected now by Hollywood during this season. This is a Summer movie for those looking to escape the punishing sunlight of an August afternoon, but are unwilling to sit through one more superhero movie in this lifetime.
The laughs arrive from the opening credit sequence of actual awkward family vacation photos culled from the better corners of the internet. We can chuckle at these Griswolds because they are the sullied sweethearts of the American nuclear family – with all the mutations and malignancy that the adjective implies. Rusty Griswold is a model of American antiquity. A loving husband. A good man and father to two sons of wildly different natures. (both kids kill it in this – from the dreamy guitar-playing James Griswold to his 75 lb. potty-mouthed pitbull of a little brother Kevin) Rusty is a man unafraid to tackle embarrassing sexual questions – even if he doesn’t quite have the answers.
Life is good for Russ, not so great for his wife. Applegate plays Debbie Griswold, the consummate party girl gone straight. Matching the depth of her husband’s naivety with chronic denial of her own worldly conquests. Fear not, the soccer mom facade is killed early in the film during a tour of Debbie’s old college sorority. The Griswold men learn that their matriarch is a storied campus urban legend, baptized in a pond of domestic beer and undomesticated flippancy. The type of woman who, later in the film, would give in easily to the idea of marital relations perched atop the crosshairs of the Four Corners Monument.
No matter what its detractors will accuse Vacation of, thanks to Applegate and Helms, there is a heart to this film. Sure this is a family movie you’d never dare bring your family to, but there is a domestic bond between these characters. To demean them as tropes is to simply lose compassion for their plight. If they’re tropes they’re our tropes. Warped, misshapen reflections of the American family and its take no prisoners approach to sex and recreation. Every society gets the kind of parody it deserves. To not laugh at this millennial Griswold generation is to not be able to laugh at ourselves. It feels, frankly… Un-American.
The only real cold spot in the film happens when Clark and Ellen Griswold are forced into the plot to remind us that this is most definitely not a reboot – by our current understanding of the term. Chevy Chase’s eyebrow shenanigans and earnest delusions worked for our wonderful Griswolds of yesteryear, but these new Griswolds don’t need his help. And Chevy hasn’t aged well.
The Verdict: Vacation 2015 is everything great American comedy was built upon. It’s crass, noxious, capricious, sincere, and above all else, willing to go to any length to pull a laugh out of an audience. It is a Vacation film in the best sense of the word. A true highlight in a franchise that, until now at least, was playing .500 ball.
Vacation opens in theaters nationwide 07/29/2015