The Griswolds were so important to my life, I probably went on more vacations with them than I did with my own family, for all the times I re-watched their movies on VHS. Yes, even Vegas Vacation. I really think you could have sent the Griswolds anywhere and had a fun story. I wish they had made more with Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, but grown-up Rusty (Ed Helms) is the perfect way to continue the Griswold legacy.
John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s Vacation gets the Griswolds. Rusty has taken after the old man. He’s cluelessly well meaning, which leads to so many scenarios that are just plain wrong. In Deb (Christina Applegate), he found a partner who is effectively supportive and her own woman. They’re a passionate couple, like Clark and Ellen were, which is frankly nice to see married parents allowed to be sexual.
A Vacation movie really only needs to be a series of sketches in different locations, but Daley and Goldstein get the tone of those sketches. Their film honors and updates the classic Vacation. I’m just glad it opened with the right song, but it’s also got Rusty’s attempts at heart to heart talks with his older son (Skyler Gisondo). Trying to bond over awkward, goofy activities feels true to the Griswolds. Again it’s well meaning and endearing but it’s just wrong. The kids have a nice edge with the younger brother (Steele Stebbins) accurately depicting the volatility of rambunctious youth, without being precocious.
Vacation shenanigans have slightly new contexts in 2015. Sexual misunderstandings are no longer innocent when everyone in the world is aware of sex offenders. Plus, kids are exposed to a lot more sex now than Rusty was, even when he went to the Parisian strip club. Spoofing the ridiculous accessories on the Griswold travel car is relevant to today’s auto tech and harken back to the old Truckster. Visiting Deb’s old sorority rightfully acknowledges the Girls Gone Wild/Dude Bro culture so Deb laments what she’s wrought. Social media sort of ruins travel, so leave it to the Griswolds to put it in its place.
One thing this Vacation lacks is a sense of escalating disaster. In all the previous ones, even Vegas, Clark’s bad decisions or bad luck nearly threatened the Griswolds’ safety, finances or fidelity, let alone the completion of their travel. So even though it was a series of sketches, they had consequences. Here, losing all their money, or more, doesn’t even seem to alter their triptych. It doesn’t make the scenes any less funny, just something I noticed.
Some of the humor is a little meaner than even the original R-rated National Lampoon’s Vacation. I’m talking about a movie where they strap a dead body to the roof and leave her on the doorstep of their relatives, and dragged a dog behind a station wagon for miles. Somehow head on vehicular murder and cow guts seem unnecessary to the humor. I don’t think Vacation needs to compete with the Hangover movies or old school Farrelly Brothers movies. It’s already edgy with the kids and the political incorrectness, but the violent extremes are few and far between. If that’s what Daley and Goldstein dreamed of adding to their Vacation movie, I celebrate them.
It would have been nice if they spent a bit more time at Wally World, but they do incorporate the new climate of theme parks well. It’s not like they had an entire reshoot to film a Wally World centric third act this time.
Daley and Goldstein have impeccable instincts for setting up brilliant comedic scenarios. The elements are clear, but then they unfold into an unexpected payoff. That also includes a strong directorial eye for comedic staging and editing. You need only look at the tumbleweed scene or the copilot scene to see Goldstein and Daley are bringing back almost vaudevillian comedy. If their instincts veer dark or sweet, it still made me laugh out loud. I want to see these Griswolds take many more vacations. Franchise Fred approves.
Goldstein and Daley shot a beautiful film and it looks it on Blu-ray. All the different places the Griswold visit give you a virtual travelogue in your living room. Lush green forests and farms are bright, and desert canyons looks crisp and sharp, especially epic in the widescreen frame.
Bonus features are fun too. The deleted scenes made me legitimately laugh with more Hemsworth, Chase and D’Angelo, plus some new characters who didn’t make the cut. That Burning Man scene, or rather non specific Burning Man-like art festival, looked like a beast to stage with all the colorful extras.
The behind the scenes extras capture the tone of the movie as well, with most of the cast and filmmakers being sincere. Then you cut to Chevy Chase for some random nonsense! More Chevy, I’m happy!