VACATING THE VACANT VACATION




What I have noticed during my short time writing reviews is that, the length of my articles depends on the artistic appeal of the movie I am reviewing. But that is not as straightforward as it sounds. Yes, there is so much to say about a great or a good movie with a great plot, a universal theme and relatable characters; in fact, given a truly brilliant movie, I could write a novella. But a bad movie is not so bad either. As there is no perfect movie – and the worse a movie is the less perfect it becomes – criticising a movie and pointing out all its flaws is actually easier. So, given a truly appalling film, I could write a novel. But, what about a mediocre film; the kind of movie that does not really say anything but is not all that bad to look at.

Vacation is one such movie. It is an R-rated comedy starring B-list actors and written and directed by first time filmmakers. Furthermore, it is a remake of a Chevy Chase comedy that was neither great nor popular to begin with. I started writing this article three days after I saw the movie, and I am already having a hard time remembering what its third act was. If a film was ever destined to be random, that movie would be Vacation.

The movie is actually a sequel rather than a remake. It follows Rusty Griswold, a family guy, who decides to take his family on a, vacation. Rusty is actually the son of Chase’s character from the original movie. So the plot this time around is that, in order to bring his family closer, Rusty takes them to the same entertainment complex his parents took him to. Like the first movie, the fun is not in the destination but in the journey. The Griswolds encounter many peculiar characters and go through ups and downs that test the family’s bonds.

Vacation is what is known as a road comedy (extension of road movies).  A movie about people who take a cross country adventure and, on the way, learn something about themselves and the people they are with. There are probably just one or more movies like this per year and deservingly so, because they always turn out to be awful. The best road comedy is the first of its kind: Frank Kapra’s It Happened One Night, starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. The movie is also the first screwball comedy and its generation (including Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler) loved it so much that it won the five biggest Oscars.

Vacation is not quite on par with It Happened One Night and it is obvious whom we should blame for that. Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley are first time filmmakers whose greatest flaw lies in their transparent scripts. The audience is more than sure how the film intends to end; both thematically and plot wise.  It would have been refreshing, for once, to see a road movie in which the male and female characters figure out they are not quite meant for each other. Or a road comedy that looks like a movie and not a feature length joke. Vacation does not fulfil any of these fancies.

The film may not have distinctive or complex characters, but the actors that play them do their very best to make us believe so. Rusty is played by Ed Helms in a role that he hopes would finally distinguish him from part of the trio in the popular Hangover Series. Sadly enough, it does not. Helms puts on a good performance as an unfortunate do-gooder who loves his family but the character is so much like any other goofy low IQ caricature that is a staple of most comedy movies, we forget him even when he is in a shot. The supporting cast is about the same level as Helms. None is too good or too bad. No one in particular steals the show, maybe except Chase; and that, not even because he is especially funny in any way but because he occupies the place of a guest actor.

Some say mediocrity is worse than being bad. I may not entirely agree, but something I am fairly sure of is that the worse or the better something is, the more improved is its chance of being remembered. Vacation is forgettable and commonplace. It is not even the movie of the week. There is nothing that distinguishes it from any other simple minded comedy that is just looking to make easy dough. But the question people want me to answer is: was the movie entertaining while it lasted? And that would depend on my definition of entertainment. According to that, Vacation does not merit the medium in which it exists. We are all too much evolved for this kind of entertainment. And not just too evolved but too well-informed and too resourceful to waste our time on such shenanigans. But that is just my opinion.

 



By Christian Tesfaye
Special to Fortune

Published on Aug 31,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 800]


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