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.
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.
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.
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.
What are your favorite vacation movies?