Three great “vacation” movies — all with one common thread

So after much discussion, I realized there are “beach” movies, my list from yesterday, but there are also “vacation” movies. This category opens up the possibilities immensely given that “summer camp” movies are in the mix (I’m talking to you Meatballs and Wet Hot American Summer). And my wife will tell you that Dirty Dancing damn sure belongs on a list about summer movies.

I was thinking more along the lines of “a family travels together somewhere” movies. So, there is some crossover. But while thinking about it, I came up with my three favorites and they share a thread of greatness.

So, not to overlap too much with yesterday, but my three favorite (vacation movies) are:

Summer Rental (1985). Beach movie. Vacation movie. Whatever. I still love John Candy’s performance as the father who just wants to give his family a great time at the beach. And all of us can relate to the fact that he does this all because his job has pushed him to the edge of his sanity. He needs this vacation and through it all — sunburns, dinner mishaps, mistaken houses, leg injuries, and run-ins with the greatest neighbors ever — he triumphs at the end with a lot of help from his family and some new friends. I love this movie.

The Great Outdoors (1988). Cabin-on-the-lake movie. Written by John Hughes. John Candy plays Chet Ripley, another family man who just wants to relax at a beloved cabin on a scenic lake. Which would normally be okay except for the fact that Dan Aykroyd shows up, as Chet’s annoying blowhard of a brother-in-law, Roman Craig. Want to see John Candy win a steak-eating contest? Want to know how many times a man can be struck by lightening and still survive? Want to see what a cell phone looked like in 1988? Want to see John Candy tell one of the greatest campfire stories ever? This is your movie. My entire family loves this movie and never complains when we pop it in to watch.

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). Another thread in two of these three movies is John Hughes. Based on his own short story, this reflects Hughes’ own family trip in 1958. Chevy Chase’s defining role (whether he likes it or not) as Clark W. Griswold. Here is what I like about his performance in particular: unlike the sugary dads of other movies, Griswold has an edge. He does. We forget that as the years go by, but the guy gets so mad at his wife that he swims nude with another woman, for all eyes to see at a hotel swimming pool. He ties a dead body to the top of the car. He buys a pawn-shop BB pistol to break in to an amusement park. I think we all like that about this story. In fact, I’m not sure the studio heads would find the right balance nowadays between the goofiness and shooting a security guard with a BB pistol edginess. Oh, that security guard? John Candy. So there’s my thread between the three.

There you have it. I love summer vacation movies (beach or not). I love John Hughes. I love John Candy. (And we haven’t even talked about Uncle Buck yet).


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