This is the first of three comedy movie series posts. Today we start with the National Lampoon's Vacation series. I had seen parts of Vacation and Christmas Vacation awhile ago so I re-watched them all the way through. I also saw European Vacation and Vegas Vacation for the first time.
The plot of Vacation is pretty simple. The father, Clark Griswold, wants to spend more time with his family (wife Ellen, son Rusty, and daughter Audrey) so he plans a cross country trip to from Chicago to California to visit Walley World (a fictional version of Disneyland). On the way there they visit some family members and are followed by a mysterious beautiful woman. Will the Griswolds make it to Walley World on time.. and alive?!
Vacation was directed by Harold Ramis. Ramis also made Groundhog Day and has written and acted in several other movies, including a few I have written about on this blog! The screenplay was written by John Hughes and is loosely based on a true story of a vacation his family took when he was a boy.
Not only are Vacation and Christmas Vacation the best two movies of the series, they are also the most accessible. Everybody has been on a crazy family vacation or had to spend a lot of time with their families during the holidays. Not everyone has been to Europe or Las Vegas. I know that not everyone has been on a cross-country trip through America and that not everybody celebrates Christmas, but those movies handled those topics in a more general yet personal way that all audiences can relate to.
Vacation is my favorite of the series and it is one of the best comedies of the last 30 years. The only thing missing is the song "Vacation" by The Go-Gos! That said, the Lindsey Buckingham song "Holiday Road" in the opening credits is awesome. I love it when movies do something interesting with the credits, and the use of colorful postcards from around America is pretty cool.
European Vacation (1985)
The hilarious opening scene of European Vacation features the Griswold family in the middle of a humiliating game show. With a lot of luck they manage to beat the other family and win a trip to Europe! The set-up is pretty solid here and they tried to mix things up since something nice happens to the family after all the crazy stuff in the last movie. Don't worry, shenanigans ensue in Europe, but this time Clark's stupidity causes problems for other people and not the Griswolds. While this was a good idea to not simply re-hash the oiginal, the biggest problem with the movie is that it doesn't really have a plot. The Griswolds win a European vacation and have an itinerary to keep up with but that's about it. There is a sub-plot about a sex tape being stolen but its too little, too late. It was set-up with a scene early on so I assumed that this would lead to the Griswolds running around Europe to stop the distribution of the sex tape, but that doesn't happen. John Hughes is given writing credit but the whole thing felt rushed to cash-in on the popularity of the first movie. The movie performed well at the box office so I guess it worked. The kids were re-cast and the new actors were not as good. I am pretty sure the new Rusty only got the role because he looks like the first Rusty, Anthony Michael Hall! This is also the only Vacation movie that doesn't feature Cousin Eddie and his family. To make up for that we have cameos from actors such as John Astin, Eric Idle, and Robbie Coltrane! Although European Vacation has its moments, its still not nearly as good as the original.
Christmas Vacation (1989)
The original is still my favorite but Christmas Vacation is very good comedy and a nice Christmas movie. The basic plot is that Clark, the father, wants to host the best Christmas ever for his extended family. While this is not as concrete as the goal in the original, (get the family to Wally World before the two weeks is up!) it works since we see old home videos of Clark's Christmases as a boy which show us how important the holiday and his family are to him. We also have a sub-plot about Clark's boss and a Christmas bonus which has a great pay-off. The kids are played by new actors again, but it doesn't matter since they were never the focus of these movies anyway. Christmas Vacation is quite funny and features another great blow-up by Chevy Chase! This one and Vacation are the only movies in the series you need to watch, so check them out if you haven't already!
Vegas Vacation (1997)
This is the only Vacation movie that John Hughes did not write the screenplay for. His magic touch is missed but to be honest this one just didn't need to be made. The series was running out of steam by this point and it doesn't help that this is the only one of the series to be rated PG! Vegas Vacation came out eight years after Christmas Vacation, the longest gap in the series. The children are re-cast yet again, although Chevy Chase has a great meta-joke about it: "You guys are growing up so fast, I hardly recognize you anymore!" The biggest problem with the movie is that it is not focused. Funny stuff happens in Vegas, but there isn't much of a real story other than the family going to Las Vegas for a vacation. We have a couple of sub-plots like Chevy Chase's character losing all his money or Wayne Newton (played by himself of course!) falling in love with the wife which are humorous, but that's about it. Randy Quaid returns as the wacky Cousin Eddie and even though its totally forced into the movie he and his family are pretty funny. Vegas Vacation is the weakest of the series but I've seen comedies that are a lot worse. It is not necessary viewing but if you liked the others or are a Chevy Chase fan there is some fun to be had here.
I am catching up on my posts but still have a lot more to do before I get back to my regular schedule.