Mascott’s Movie Rewind – National Lampoon’s Vacation

Originally posted June 26th, 2010.

The Kidd here bringing you yet another random-ass installment of MASCOTT’S MOVIE REWIND. This week, Mascott gets to revisit NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION, and, in the process, somehow manages to climb up on his soapbox while ranting about DEGRASSI and proclaiming the greatness of Anthony Michael Hall. Yes, it is quite the read, so pack yourself in the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, and away we go…

Cavation

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION
1983
DIRECTED BY HAROLD RAMIS

 Before Peter Griffin, before Homer Simpson, before Al Bundy, (after Archie Bunker though) – There was Clark Griswold.

There was once a time, Clark’s time, when trying your hardest to be a good dad would be enough to make a successful comedy movie. You didn’t need to be belligerent and drunk to get people to watch, nor did you have to stick yourself in the eye with a fork every four seconds. Clark Griswold is a more civilized father for a more civilized age (regardless of the way the Griswold’s computer works. It hooks up to a television. A TELEVISION.)

The movie starts with Clark planning a week’s vacation for his family to go to Wally World. Nothing goes quite the way he wanted it to, and hijinks ensue. You’d think this is a tired formula, but VACATION was made in a magical time -the early 80s, when this kind of movie was the best kind of comedy there was. Today, to be funny, a comedy has to do something different,whatever the hell that means. But back then, in the good ol’ days, because of the casts these movies had, being the same kind of movie as everyone else was exactly what people wanted. Or maybe people were still just enthralled by the idea of moving pictures. I don’t know, I was a 90s kid.

John Hughes, director of a few of the greatest movies of the 80s like THE BREAKFAST CLUB and FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, was the writer of VACATION. It was based off a short story he wrote while he was moonlighting at National Lampoon Magazine called ‘Vacation ‘58‘, and even more notable is the fact that it was the first time he’d ever written a screenplay. Because it’s directed by Harold Ramis (of BEDAZZLED fame), it only hints at things that would later become staples in Hughes’ movies. Don’t you think that Shermer, Illinois would be a nice place to live? Well, I guess if you’re sixteen. If you’re over the age of thirty in Shermer you’re automatically stupid, unloving or you hate your kids.

The movie’s cast is just steeped in the funniest actors of the decade and beyond. Eugene Levy, John Candy, Chevy Chase – the essentials. A pre-SIXTEEN CANDLES Anthony Micheal Hall works with John Hughes for the first time, and a very young Jane Krakowski (Jenna Maroni from 30 ROCK) plays a 12-year-old with a shoebox filled with pineapple express. Though some of these actors (Eugene Levy, Randy Quaid, etc.) are only in one scene each, they absolutely own those scenes and Chevy Chase, the film’s comedy workhorse, is more than happy to let them. Christie Brinkley is also in the movie, and was probably given direction to the point of “look hot.” With regard to following direction, she’s a fantastic actress.

There’s a certain movie that I now realize was a kind of love letter to VACATION. 2006’s LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE has quite a few things in common with VACATION. LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE is one of my favorite movies (because I’m an indie douchebag, of course), so these fun references jumped out at me. It all goes beyond the fact that they’re both family road trip movies, but I can’t really explain the similarities without ruining LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE for anyone that hasn’t seen it. Let’s just say that in any order you watch the two you’ll see similar set pieces with the ability to make you smile if you’re sentimental.

I realize that I keep saying the word “80s” when I describe this movie. I’m sure this is maddening to someone who can define that as an actual decade where things happened rather then a set of filmmaking sensibilities, but this is one of the things that young people do. We weren’t there. People aren’t wearing Zubaz and drinking Pepsi Free, but it’s a distinct flavor that you can just tell that something is from the 80s. Until just recently, it was an impossible flavor to recreate, until HOT TUB TIME MACHINE did something very close. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE has nearly the same feel of an 80s movie with the writing sensibilities of a smart 2010 comedy, and the two worked together well. That said, I don’t think anyone should spend money trying to recreate the feel of a film period. While HOT TUB TIME MACHINE worked out great, it’s not hard to imagine a world where in three years there are nine awful movies trying to recreate the 1980s.

Unfortunately, National Lampoon is a brand that has been absolutely run headlong into the ground. Long gone are the days of NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE and NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION. Today, we only see things like NATIONAL LAMPOON’S DORM DAZE, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VAN WILDER 2: THE RISE OF TAJ, and NATIONAL LAMPOON’S REPLI-KATE. (just the title of that last one makes me want to jump off of a verytall building). The producers of National Lampoon movies must have seen AMERICAN PIE and had some kind of meeting.

PRODUCER 1 – This movie? The one that’s doing  It’s all about sex. All of it.
PRODUCER 2 – A kid fucks a pie.
PRODUCER 1 – Yes. He does. How can we compete with that?
PRODUCER 2 – Strudel?
PRODUCER 1 – No, but you might be onto something.

And since that meeting, all of the National Lampoon movies have focused on sex. People get tired of it after a while (if you’ll pardon the sexy pun) and don’t want to see those movies anymore. Our society is so focused on sex, or at least the creative minds think so, that we can’t deal with anything else. An example I like is what happened with the ABC Family show SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER. Now, one of the big draws when this show was premiering was that it was supposed to be like DEGRASSI for the current generation of teenagers (full disclosure – I loved the original DEGRASSIs). A good show that focused on a lot of issues, drugs, relationships – anything you could imagine that some teen out there might be dealing with. A show that didn’t shy away from the really tough issues. SECRET LIFE premiered, and it was all about sex.
Every.
Goddamned.
Minute.
It doesn’t take a smart or creative person to write what happens when Julia blows Evan at Rob’s kegger an hour after she did Connor on the pool table who had Devin the night before, and the fact that people STILL compare it to DEGRASSI is just as maddening.  I don’t know if it’s so much that people are obsessed with sex, or if it’s just all that’s on.

*ahem*
</soapbox>

It’s come to my attention that I may have strayed from VACATION a bit and I apologize if none of what I said makes any sense.

Favorite Part – John Candy announcing that he gets motion sickness while riding roller coasters as a gun is jammed farther and farther up his nose.

Best Actor – Chevy Chase. As great as the ensemble cast is, Chevy Chase is at the center of this movie and it’s funny because of him. The movie probably would have flopped without Chevy Chase at the wheel. He jives with everyone in the movie and plays the quintessential Dad, and it’s perfect for him.

Most Thankful For… – Anthony Micheal Hall. For some reason he’s one of the things that pull this movie together for me. He’s always up for the crazy stuff his dad pulls him into and I know that in just a few years he’s going to make a woman with a sexy British accent out of a Barbie doll some copper wiring and a modem.

What Date You Should Watch This On – The date after you find out that your views on whether or not you want children are the same.

After Watching This Movie, I… – Watched THE BREAKFAST CLUB because I hadn’t seen it in at least two weeks and that is far too much time to go without seeing that movie.

While I Was Writing This Article, I… – May or may not have taken a week to write it, and watched about nine other movies in that time.

Recommend Watching? – Vehemently. Todd Phillips’ (Director of THE HANGOVER) next movie, STAYCATION, is supposedly inspired by VACATION and other John Hughes movies, so it’s worth it if only for that. It’s also probably one of Chevy Chase’s funniest roles. Really, if you haven’t already picked this movie up on the road trip of life, it’s a must-see.

(Fun trivia from the future! At the time I was writing this, I had, and actually still have, actual friends named Julia, Evan, Rob, Connor and Devin. Putting them in this article in such… compromising positions was my way of seeing if they were reading my articles. Apparently they were not, and to this day only two have inquired about it.) 

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