National Lampoon's Vacation

Weekend Roundtable: Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Vacations are supposed to be a time of rest and relaxation, but all too often lead to even more stress than the normal work routine. (Just ask Peter Parker in this week’s Spider-Man: Far from Home). Our Roundtable for the Independence Day weekend looks at movies that capture the highs and lows of the vacation experience.

Jason Gorber

Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip started as a TV series that showcased Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing slightly heightened versions of themselves as they traipsed through Northern England. I saw it in its theatrical form when it played TIFF back in 2010 and fell in love with it. It’s a film that absolutely should not work. By description alone, it’s too insular, too on-the-nose, too obnoxiously self-indulgent, and culling down episodic television to feature length is a dire move. However, implausibly and delightfully, the film is an absolute treasure. The food is fab, the friendship is fraught, and the dynamic between the two performers is the stuff of legend. You’d both hate and love to spend time with these two, overhearing their conversations from a nearby table. The ambivalence lying somewhere between enjoyment and misery is entirely in keeping with most vacations.

M. Enois Duarte

Thirty years later, Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs continues to make me laugh. Tom Hanks plays a suburban dad on vacation, but rather than going to the cabin as his wife (Carrie Fisher) keeps insisting, he prefers to spend his week off work at home. It doesn’t take long before his neighbors (Rick Ducommun, Bruce Dern, and Corey Feldman) encourage suspicions about the people living next door, a family of creepy foreigners with a unique lifestyle that goes against suburbia’s homogeneous, cookie-cutter way of life. At the time, my family and I were living in a cul-de-sac where all the neighbors knew each other, so I was immediately drawn to this cult comedy. I also love the horror mystery element. The allegorical tale about modern America remains just as relevant today as it did three decades ago.

Deirdre Crimmins

Though I wholeheartedly love (nearly) all of the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies, my favorite vacation movie of all time has to be What About Bob?. In the movie, Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) follows his psychiatrist, Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss), on vacation. Leo just wants to get away, but Bob clings to him like the crazy person that he is. Hilarity ensues in a way that reflects the (alleged) real life animosity between Dreyfuss and Murray. The fact that the entire Marvin household is utterly charmed by Bob only makes the situation that much more frustration for Leo.

But the element that makes What About Bob? an unshakable vacation classic is the fact that both Leo and Bob are constantly shouting about being on vacation. Leo yells that he already is “On vacation” when told he needs a vacation, and Bob proudly and loudly declares that he’s “On vacation… from my problems!” throughout the film. It’s dramatic and silly, and paired with the score and frequent antagonism, it’s one of my favorite films.

You’d think with the current cultural worship of Bill Murray that this movie would have a deeper level of appreciation, but I’m still waiting.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Finally! School is at long last out for the summer, so Mud and his pals can look forward to a couple months straight of TV, loud music, Super Nintendo, and assorted junior high school-aged shenanigans. But wait! The school bell has hardly finished ringing, and their parents are already shuttling them off to summer camps. Computer camp! Fat camp! Theatre camp! Boot camp!

This gaggle of kids is desperate to do their own thing for a change, so they blackmail a retired drama teacher (Christopher Lloyd) into duping their parents. The ‘rents each think they’re shelling out a few grand to force their lives and dreams onto their kids. Instead, Mud and company use that loot to rent a decaying old campground. Flush with cash and zero adult supervision, it’s every kid’s dream vacation!

1994’s Camp Nowhere indulges all sorts of ridiculous fantasies, from carving up a gigantic party sub with a chainsaw to all-you-can-eat Pop Tarts. And it’d be an awfully short movie if everything went according to plan, so there are a whole bunch more kids than Mud would ever have guessed, the cops and a dogged repo man (Tom Wilson and M. Emmet Walsh) are on the prowl, and – gulp! – how are they going to pull off parents’ weekend when these kids are supposed to be attending a half-dozen different camps?!

Camp Nowhere could’ve just coasted on its “kids run their own summer camp” premise, but it’s actually pretty terrific. The middle schoolers are really well-cast, transcending the usual archetypes and shying away from the manufactured precociousness that so often creeps into movies like this. Christopher Lloyd is marvelous as ever, balancing his wildly over-the-top caricatures of camp leaders with parental warmth and a whole lot of romantic charm. And, of course, everyone involved learns very valuable lessons about life, love, and responsibility, and that goes for the parents too.

Josh Zyber

National Lampoon’s Vacation is a too much of a gimme for this, right? The second sequel, Christmas Vacation, is a classic as well (not so much for the other entries in the franchise).

As a raunchy teen sex comedy produced in the wake of American Pie, 2004’s EuroTrip ought to be a forgettable trifle. While I wouldn’t claim that it’s great art by any means, the movie has some really good jokes, appealing performances, and a surprising amount of heart and charm. A running gag where an uncredited A-List star cameos as an asshole minor league rock star is an unexpected delight. As a bonus, the movie offers a pretty decent tour of scenic European vacation destinations, some real and some very exaggerated.

Your Turn

What are your favorite vacation movies?

7 comments

  1. Julian

    Ooh, I like ‘EuroTrip’ as well. I could be mistaken, but I think the whole movie was filmed in Prague, so you could say every scenic destination/location is fake 😉

  2. Bolo

    ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ – I pulled this one off my shelf a little while back and found it held up nicely. It has a lot Woody Allen’s trademarks, yet a very different atmosphere than any other film I’ve seen from him. Allen was going through a relatively optimistic and carefree stage in his otherwise neurotic and pessimistic life when he made this and ‘Whatever Works’, and so this film has a nice breezy holiday feel. Cruz steals the show with a hilarious performance, but everybody else is good, too. Wonderful soundtrack, too.

  3. photogdave

    I found Club Dread to be pretty hilarious, almost in spite of itself. But the all-time, ultimate classic vacation movie is absolutely Captain Ron!
    “Hey swab! Get me another brewski!”

  4. Chris B

    I loved Eurotrip when i was 20
    But saw it a few years ago in my mid-thirties and it sadly didn’t hold up nearly as well as I’d remembered. Perhaps I should give it another watch one of these days.

    I LOVE The ‘Burbs and have seen it probably 100+ times. Hard to believe it’s 30 years old now. It always feels like a mid-90s movie as opposed to a late-80’s one. Which Blu-Ray release of the film is better Arrow or Scream?

    For my pick I’ll go with Beverly Hills Cop. Not a vacation movie per se, but Axel Foley’s cover story when he heads out to California to investigate his friend’s Detroit murder is persistently that he’s “on vacation”.

    • M. Enois Duarte

      I’m not entirely positive, but I believe Scream used the same master as Arrow. In either case, they are both awesome releases with better PQ/AQ. Can’t go wrong with either purchase IMO.

  5. Csm101

    My favorite of the Vacation movies is European Vacation, even though it doesn’t really have a plot I find all the shenanigans they get into quite hilarious. I also find Sideways and the last segment of Paris, Je T’ aime ( coincidentally directed by Alexander Payne) to really bring me into those worlds and want to be there.

  6. William Henley

    Camp Nowhere was an excellent suggestion!

    I usually don’t watch vacation-type movies, but if you know me on past roundtables, I like to stretch the definition just a bit.

    Total Recall is one of my favorites. Stay with me on this – Quaid wants to take a vacation to Mars, his wife wants to take a vacation to Saturn, so he goes to Recall to have a vacation implanted, and they sell him on a Secret Agent package where you can take a vacation from yourself. Total Recall is a vacation movie.

    Another stretch – not only is it a vacation movie, but I will claim its a roadtrip movie – Flight of the Navigator. Think about it – it is totally a roadtrip movie, and David “escapes” to go on this roadtrip with Peewee Herman in his shiny new vehicle, and along the way realizes that all he wants to do is go home.

    And there is always Home Alone 2..

    If you really want to stretch it – Gone With The Wind – Scarlett decides to take a vacation to Atlanta rather than Savanah during the middle of the war (and you also have their honeymoon after the war, and Rhett and Bonnie’s trip to England), and in Interview With The Vampire (it is a bigger think in the book than it is in the movie – its like half of the book yet only about 20-30 minutes of the movie) there is the trip to Europe to try to find more vampires like themselves.

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