Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Movie Review: National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)


A road trip comedy, National Lampoon's Vacation concocts a hit-and-miss subversive mix of dark humour with seemingly innocent family fun.

The eternally optimistic Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) insists on taking his family on a long road trip from Chicago to the Walley World theme park in Los Angeles. His wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) and kids Rusty and Audrey (Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron) are less enthusiastic but pack into the newly acquired garish green Wagon Queen Family Truckster station wagon to embark on the trip.

Along the way they stop in Kansas to visit Ellen's country bumpkin cousin Catherine (Miriam Flynn), her husband Eddie (Randy Quaid) and their numerous children. Ellen and Eddie foist Phoenix-bound Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and her gnarly dog onto the Griswolds. The adventurous episodes continue, including an unscheduled sojourn into the desert and frequent encounters with a beautiful woman (Christie Brinkley) driving a red Ferrari.

Trendsetting for its time, National Lampoon's Vacation was written by John Hughes (based on his short story for National Lampoon magazine), and directed by Harold Ramis. The film features coarse language spouted in front of children, mild nudity, animal cruelty, sudden death, a theme of middle-aged lust, and unhinged behaviour that tips into armed threats. But it's all presented in the context of an uproariously fun family road trip with a cheerful father egging his brood to have a good time.

The film's dual personality is what gives it a sharp edge, because otherwise this is an episodic and fairly sparse comedy singularly lacking in narrative arcs or character depth. Beyond Clark's insistence that the family ought to have fun no matter how little fun they are having, the film trundles on from one set piece to another, fully dependent on abject stupidity to land the Griswolds in their next mess.

Clark's other journey is that of a middle aged man lusting after a mythical sexy girl driving a super sportscar. The reality is that no Christie Brinkley would ever cast a second glance at a doofus like Clark Griswold as he lugs his family around in a ridiculous station wagon, and this is part of Hughes' perverted take on comedy.

Chevy Chase's screen persona of the straight man with a much higher opinion of himself than merited is perfectly deployed to create Griswold, and he arrows through the film on a downward trajectory towards total humiliation. Other funny men appear in small roles, including Eugene Levy as a car salesman and John Candy as a security guard at Walley World.

National Lampoon's Vacation travels the bumpy road of comedy, delivering some laughs, some bewilderment and plenty of silliness.






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