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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

Vacation movie review: stay home

Vacation red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
All homophobic, xenophobic, scatological grossout, with some rape and pedophilia “jokes” for flavor. How did this happen?
I’m “biast” (pro): have hazy good memories of the 1980s films…
I’m “biast” (con): …but really tired of reboot fever
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

For those playing along at home, we’ve gone from — in the 1983 movie Vacation — the comedic stylings of Harold Ramis (director), John Hughes (screenwriter), and Chevy Chase (star) to — in this new sequel/reboot — the desperate flailings of John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein (writer-directors) and Ed Helms (star). Vacation is yet another example of screenwriters with no experience directing features being given the keys to a studio film, which is one of those great Hollywood tricks that defies all sense. And never mind the directing job! Daley and Goldstein are counterindicated just to write the script alone: they’ve got a couple of pretty good screenplays to their names (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, though it was a flop; Horrible Bosses), but they’ve also got a couple of mediocre to bad ones, and those are sequels (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Horrible Bosses 2, also a flop). So how did their Vacation happen? Who looked at the script Daley and Goldstein produced for this — all homophobic, xenophobic, scatological grossout, with some rape and pedophilia “jokes” for flavor — and said, “Brilliant! Here’s $30 million. Go make it happen!”? Who thought Helms (They Came Together), the unfunny Daily Show alum who makes all the rest of them look even better, was perfect as the grownup Rusty Griswold, and who thought it would be a good idea to get Chase back for a cameo as the elder Griswold, which only highlights how dismal this family road trip to theme park Wally World is? There’s a stink of threatened masculinity all over this movie, from the gendered abuse the younger Griswold son (Steele Stebbins) lobs at the older one (Skyler Gisondo: The Amazing Spider-Man 2) to the “comically” huge penis of Rusty’s brother-in-law (Chris Hemsworth: Avengers: Age of Ultron), who flirts with Rusty’s wife (Christina Applegate: The Book of Life). The scene in which the Griswolds stop to swim at a “hot spring” that turns out to be a raw-sewage dump, and end up covered in shit, is an excellent metaphor for the experience of watching this film. I wonder if the recurring petulant defensiveness against perceived inferiority is an accidental metaphor for the making of it.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Vacation for its representation of girls and women.


red light half a star

Vacation (2015) | directed by John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein
US/Can release: Jul 29 2015
UK/Ire release: Aug 21 2015

MPAA: rated R for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, sex references, nudity)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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