Pedophiles. Suicide. Sexism. AIDS. All of these and more were served up as jokes in the new movie Vacation starring Ed Helms and Christina Applegate. It isn't nice to jest about these things, but the Vacation movie comes from a long line of oh-no-he-didn't jokes.
The movie comes after the original 1983 National Lampoon's Vacation, which starred Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo. The jokes in that movie have a similar pattern. You shouldn't laugh. But you might have.
So we watched both the 1983 movie and the 2015 sequel to make sense of whether the new Vacation is worth 99 minutes of your summer vacation.
Sarah: So Britton, Chevy Chase makes an appearance in the 2015 movie Vacation, thank goodness. I had to laugh when his character in Vacation said this: "The journey sucks. That's what makes you appreciate the destination." The whole movie is the journey. They're literally trying to get across the country (again) to reach Walley World (again). Did the journey "suck" for you?
Britton: There is so much a man can tell you, so much he can say about how crappy this journey was, but that's not to say I didn't laugh at some of it. The whole trip, much like the original Vacation, is an example of Murphy's Law: Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Some of that is funny. Some of it was just painful to watch. Some of it just made me go, "Really? That's how this scenario is going to go?"
There's one scene in which the family tries to go to a hot springs (supposedly in Texas. We'll get to that in a second). They attempt to take a "secret entrance" to find the scenic, restorative waters of this spring ... That turns out to actually be a pool filled with sewage.
I'm one of those people who can get really uncomfortable when I watch people on-screen make really horrible mistakes. So as an audience member, knowing that this poor family was smearing poop all over their face wasn't "funny" to me so much as it made me cringe a lot. There were several of those moments in Vacation for me.
I don't know. The whole experience gave me mixed feelings. I laughed. I cringed. I scoffed. Then I chuckled again.
What did you think of it?
Sarah: I laughed a heck of a lot. I would even watch it again, and I'd probably laugh a lot then, too.
I feel special connection to this movie, because on the roadtrip to Walley World, they stop in Plano, Texas. Plain 'ol, Plano, Texas, where I was born and raised.
Turns out, Plano in the movies is nothing like Plano in real life. There were acres upon acres of green grass, and cattle! The giant mansion looked like a lodge inside, with animal heads on the wall and fireplaces larger than my wingspan.
Also, as it turns out, the character from Plano is terribly sexist. I don't remember running into much of that as a female growing up in Plano.
This clip? This is supposed to take place in Plano.
Britton: He definitely seemed adamant about his wife not getting a job, despite her wanting to get back. But according to Governor Perry, his work as a meteorologist saved 2,000 lives! So he's OK, right? Great husband material.
Sarah: So let's talk about the characters. This movie is basically a sequel, where Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is a grandpa and the main character is Clark's son, Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms). In a battle between Clark Griswold and Rusty Griswold, who's the better dad?
Britton: Rusty. Hands down.
Both dads had one thing in common: They wanted to give their families an enjoyable family vacation, and they wanted to bond along the way. But Clark's idea of "bonding" involved attempts to cheat on his wife, numerous angry tirades, general disrespect for his extended family (sorry, Aunt Edna) and lawbreaking that was so bad SWAT had to get involved.
Rusty may not be perfect, but his love for his family feels much more genuine, and he seems like the better person overall.
Sarah: I agree. And it's hard not to like Ed Helms' goofy, toothy grin.
Too bad his youngest son was The Worst. Seriously, that kid said the F word, the B word, the S-H-I-T word and so many more. The only reason it was funny to see a little kid cussing like that was because I was just glad he wasn't my kid.
Britton: The more I get of Rusty, the stranger it feels, yeah, that he raised a kid that was so horrendous. He was a huge bully and not someone I would ever want my own kids (if I had any) to associate with.
So I felt pretty "meh" about most of the movie, but there was some pleasure alongside my pain. Like a growing addiction I can't deny. I really enjoyed the scene at the Four Corners, where four different police officers are arguing about whose jurisdiction a certain crime falls under. It might have been longer than it needed to be, but I laughed throughout it.
What were your high points?
Sarah: I also thought the scene at the Four Corners was one of the best.
I guess I liked the experience of watching this movie. It's like this: I read the news every day. But sometimes, when I take a vacation, I opt for a flimsy romance novel. It's fun for a moment.
I hope we can both agree that this Vacation is way better than the 1983 original. In that movie, things went wrong for the sake of going wrong. And it was frustrating. (In fact: I wrote a story where I counted 37 "things that went wrong" in National Lampoon's Vacation.) In the newer one, I made an unscientific tally and came away with even more -- 44 things that went wrong.
And yet this journey was a lot more fun than the 1983 version. But let's remember where we are, still: The first thing that went wrong in Vacation was Ed Helms fell into some lady's boobs. It's dumb comedy. But it's enjoyable.
Britton: I think some nostalgia-fueled fans of the original might disagree with that statement, but I think you're right. The new Vacation is like a light on the gloom of the gray.
So, Sarah, you and your husband liked Vacation a lot. My wife and I were "meh" on it but I thought it was OK. Fans of the original movie will probably find stuff to like in this one.
But did you know, that when it snows, Vacation also has the best use of Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" since 1995's Batman Forever?
Sarah: You make a great point. Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" is the real winner here. (Don't know what we're talking about? Just see the movie.)