When reconsidering a film one is nostalgic about they must be incredibly careful, because in many cases the passing of decades proves to make the film less stellar than remember, in many instances nearly unwatchable. Yet occasionally one is afforded an opportunity to still embrace a film and perhaps come to appreciate it on a whole new level, at least this is certainly the case with National Lampoon's Vacation, a film I have fond memories of watching with my dad as a kid and a film that has stuck with me on a near subconscious level. Being noticeably more film literate than I was as say a ten year old boy means that when the credits depicted a film that was written by John Hughes and directed by Harold Ramis that I was beside myself with elation, there is absolutely no way such a film could be bad, certainly not by adding Chevy Chase to the mix. National Lampoon's Vacation, like Groundhog Day, is yet another Ramis work that has caused me to seriously reconsider a top one hundred list, perhaps I will refigure them ever hundred or so posts, because it is truly a spectacular work, one that both stands the test of time, while also transcending it, especially considering that the film is a rather wandering and non-precise narrative, yet to be fair it is a comedy and is void of most of those expectations. Furthermore, I have become so accustomed to the Chevy Chase that phones his performances in, particularly on Community and his most recent hosting runs of SNL, that to see him putting forth a concerted effort to be funny made me almost follow up the viewing with Caddyshack, which is decidedly my favorite performance by Chase to date. I am also considering forming a more fleshed out Ramis retrospective, because besides the previously mentioned, Groundhog Day has been this blog has heavily advocated for the criminally underrated Stuart Saves His Family, of which Ramis is the director. I am happy to have revisited this film, because it does have such a nostalgic factor in my film viewing memories, and I am certainly glad to appreciate the humor both in terms of what I found to be funny as a child, as well as the adult humor I am able to pick up now, not to mention the stuff that was always edited out of the film when I would watch it on television. Finally, it has Eugene Levy in what appears to be his first film role, a bit of brilliance if I say so myself.
National Lampon's Vacation, hereafter Vacation, follows the less than in control Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) as he attempts to engage in purchasing a new car for his family's imminent vacation to Walley World, imminent meaning the same day, only to be informed by the auto dealer, played perfectly by Eugene Levy, that the model he ordered is, unfortunately, not within their shipment and he will have to settle with a metallic pea green model. This misstep sets the tone for a film in which Clark along with his wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) and their two children Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron) engage with the woes of traveling cross country from Chicago to California. It is only moments into their trip that they encounter trouble, making a wrong exit in St. Louis which leads them to a impoverished neighborhood where Clark's new car is vandalized and jacked for parts. Shaking it off the family undertakes there trip stopping at a wild west recreation site with a bit of hilarity, but it is not until they decide to visit some relatives that things change considerably for the Griswold's, during their meeting with their "rural" family, to put it nicely, Rusty and Audrey are introduced to individual vices, while Clark is hounded for a large sum of money by the family. If all of this were not enough, Clark is informed that they are also expected to take Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and her dog with them to Phoenix, despite Clark's deeply entrenched disdain for the elderly and cantankerous woman. The trip then really spirals out of control as Clark is continually distracted by a young woman driving a sports car and flirting within him on their trip, not to mention a continual use of money to fix car issues. A misuse of funds leads to the family becoming broke and essentially stealing money from a hotel to continue the trip. Furthermore, Clark accidentally leaves Aunt Edna's dog tied behind the car leading to its assumed death. In a final set of headaches Aunt Edna passes away in the car leading to her being left on a patio seat in Phoenix, while Clark comes face-to-face with the woman he has been flirting with. Needless to say when the family makes it to Walley World and discover it to be closed for technical repairs, Clark takes some hefty measures to assure that his family earns their much deserved vacation.
There is something absolutely brilliant in Vacation that allows for it to be a commentary on every family ever, as well as a reflection on a time in traditional values that is long detached from contemporary society. I say this because some of the issues faced by a family simply do not predicate themselves on unity, particularly considering the high divorce rate facing America. It is clear that the Griswold family suffers from their own disfunction's and viewers are led to believe that the relationship between Clark and Ellen is faltering at best, nearly confirmed by his distractions by the young woman in the sports car. In fact, if it were not for the comparison of the Griswold's less than well to do extended family, we would wonder how it is possible for them to even coexist within a car. With this in mind, it is the varied and valiant attempts on the part of Clark to keep his family stable that seem considerably timely. It is no surprise that Clark attempts to throw money at his family's disfunction, whether it be the new car for the trip, or the belief that by blowing money on every possible touristy stop during their vacation that the family will suddenly become unified, yet in one of the opening scenes it is quite clear that the kids are far more attached to technology, literally using it to destroy Clark's plans, a profusely timely commentary within a thirty year old film. Of course, money is not the only issue, Clark struggles to be a positive role model for Rusty throughout the film, even going so far as to be hip and attempt to share a beer with him, an act that Rusty takes advantage of guzzling the beer gleefully. It is also apparent that the distance between Clark and Ellen is some how entwined in their lack of physical affection, something that fails to be consummated within the film. In the end, it is clearly Clark's refusal to give up on his family that keeps them together, and while it is somewhat problematic that it embraces a notion of patriarchal comfort, it is a sweet ending and could certainly have been worse for the era.
Key Scene: Aunt Edna on the roof is a piece of comedy gold and perhaps one of the funniest scenes ever offered in film.
This is a cheap film to obtain and well-worth obtaining, I am making it a goal of mine to find a drinking game to incorporate with this lovely viewing experience.