“Vacation” Review

I hate to admit it, but I’ve never seen any of the original National Lampoon’s Vacation movies. I know, I know, I’m missing out on Chevy Chase in his prime. And Harold Ramis directed the first one. And John Hughes wrote the first three! I know, I know. You see, I’m a youngster. I’m only 17, and consequently, I haven’t seen every popular movie in existence. I got my advance screening passes to Vacation about 4 hours before the screening began, so I didn’t have time to get myself acquainted with the Griswolds. That said, I think that gives me a more unique perspective than a lot of film critics who grew up on these films.
This sequel, taking place a full generation after the first one, stars Ed Helms as Rusty Griswold. After discovering that his family doesn’t like going to a cabin in Michigan, he decides to spice things up by taking a road trip to “Walley World”, a theme park that his Dad took him to when he was young. Rusty is an airline pilot though, so I guess he doesn’t like to mix work and leisure. After beginning their cross-country journey, things quickly go downhill, and continue to get worse at every turn.

Vacation reminds me a lot of We’re the Millers, which came out a couple summers ago, only Vacation isn’t quite as bad. We’re the Millers takes a bunch of annoying characters and tries to make you sympathize with them. The characters make a bunch of bad choices and, at times, are seemingly rewarded for them. The filmmakers try to convince you that the characters develop, even though they obviously haven’t, and the whole ordeal becomes too sentimental and ultimately frustrating. On the other hand, Vacation takes a bunch of annoying characters and makes fun of them. The entire movie is focused on punishing these characters, and forced sentimentality is limited. Not to mention that Vacation is funnier and slightly more daring than We’re the Millers.
Vacation is the directorial debut for John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, but you might know them from some of the movies that they’ve written. They helped write Horrible Bosses and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, which, if you haven’t seen yet, you should. 2 Cloudy 2 Meatballs is probably one of my favorite animated sequels, and I will defend it to the death. What I’m getting at is that Daley and Goldstein are good at writing self-aware comedies that are just fun. They’re a lot like Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, without the great third act. Daley and Goldstein wrote the film as well as directed it, and they put together a solid little screenplay that doesn’t aspire to do much more than make you laugh. There’s a constant stream of incredibly raunchy jokes, so if you’re into that, you’ll probably like this. Vacation also provides a very respectable directorial debut for the two of them. The movie is mostly cut-and-dried, but there are some small stylistic choices that show that some effort was put into the film. Daley and Goldstein are writing the upcoming Spiderman reboot, and I’m excited to see what they put together.

One of this comedies strongest selling points is that it has a great comedic ensemble. Ed Helms is wonderfully naive as the head of the household, and Christina Applegate is really funny as his wife. The two child actors, Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins, both do fantastic jobs delivering their jokes, but they are somewhat exploited by the script and the nature of the comedy. Vacation also has a ton of great cameos. I won’t reveal them all because the surprise appearances is part of the fun of the film, but Charlie Day, Chevy Chase, and Chris Hemsworth all show up, and they’re all fantastic.
Vacation doesn’t always make a ton of sense, and it doesn’t have a very long shelf life, but it’s actually pretty funny. Even though I haven’t seen any of the originals, I still enjoyed it. There were some callbacks to the original films, but with exception to one that a trailer had clued me in on, they were either obvious enough where I got it immediately, or subtle enough where I didn’t pay any attention to it. I laughed a lot at this movie, even at jokes that I had seen previously in trailers, and I’d recommend it if you’re just looking to laugh at some stupid jokes. 6/10.

So, I enjoyed the film, more or less. But, after writing my review, I wanted to go back and watch the original to see if that would have had any impact on my thoughts. Granted, this wouldn’t account for nostalgia, but I’d perhaps gain some insight on where the film was coming from. I could have rented National Lampoon’s Vacation online or something, but I decided to follow the path of my ancestors and buy the DVD from a video store. It was a strange and intriguing experience, and I watched it on a mysterious DVD player after my parents went to sleep.

I noticed a lot of similarities between the films, and stylistic inspirations the sequel took from the original. None of this really made the sequel seem too incredibly forced, but it might have made the sequel seem too familiar if I had watched the original first. However, the sequel took things in a different direction or took the situations to another level. Seeing the original film added additional jokes to the sequel, but the sequel works independently as well. Not to mention that the sequel also had plenty of original jokes.

One of the interesting things I noticed about the two films is that the punishment for the family progressed at different rates. With the original film, there was a build, with each event being worse than the last. With the sequel, things started out extreme and stayed at that level throughout. In torture terms, the progression of punishment for the original film is like being dehydrated, then given salty foods, then given hallucinogens. With the sequel, the progression of punishment is like being shot in the kneecaps and then being hit 4 times with a tire iron every 3 minutes.

Another thing I noticed was that the style of humor was very different between the two films. For starters, the original film utilizes a lot of dark humor, whereas the sequel is more based off of shock value. There are a lot more singular jokes in the sequel, but the original has a lot more character development. I ended up laughing a lot more to the sequel, but I had a more fulfilling overall experience with the original.

Overall, I felt like the sequel was a nice follow-up to the original. It differentiated itself in style and tone while still keeping several important themes and motifs. I don’t think seeing the original changed my opinion too much of the sequel, but it gave me more of a reference point. I’d say that this new film is worth a watch if you’re a Griswold completionist, looking for a stupid, inappropriate comedy, or want to rent from the comfort of your home. I’m sticking with a 6/10.

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