“Despite its flaws, which can be taxing at times, National Lampoon’s Vacation proves that it is still a force to be reckoned with in the comedy world.”
National Lampoon’s Vacation is a movie that most people are familiar with, even if they have never seen it. The film follows the Griswold family as they decide to take a road trip from their home in Chicago, all the way to California to visit Wally World. The film chronicles the misadventures of the Griswold family as they try to complete their journey in one piece. I would like to be able to tell you more about the plot, but I’ll explain why I can’t in a minute.
National Lampoon’s Vacation is a movie that, like I mentioned, has been engrained in pop culture since its release in 1983. I had seen National Lampoon’s Vacation before, but in a sense I was looking back at it with rose-coloured glasses. The movie isn’t bad, but it is very different, especially if you are accustomed to the comedy movies of today. National Lampoon’s Vacation has one major problem, and that is how the story is structured. We are introduced to the goal of the characters (getting to Wally World), but then everything that fills in the rest of the film is not only random but kind of inconsequential. Scenes in National Lampoon’s Vacation happen just for the sake of delivering a punchline; this isn’t a bad thing, because more often than not the jokes land, but it is a little jarring to have a film set up this way. The best way for me to describe my feelings toward National Lampoon’s Vacation would be to pull out the ‘Family Guy’ comparison. Now I’m a fan of Family Guy, but even I’m not too blind to see that they have a very predictable formula. There is a vague goal outlined at the start of the episode, the rest of the episode is filled with characters going “This reminds of the time (insert celebrity here) did (insert lewd action here)” coupled with a brief cut-away gag, and then the problem is resolved at the end of the episode. I can make the comparison to National Lampoon’s Vacation because both have an almost identical formula. I will admit that National Lampoon’s vacation doesn’t rely on making fun of pop culture as much as Family Guy, which means that their jokes will stay relevant for longer, but that doesn’t fix the underlying issue that I had with the movie’s narrative. Something would happen to the Griswold’s seemingly to just set up a punchline, the joke would occur, and then they would be on the road again as if nothing ever happened. This is not only (in my opinion) a lazy way to write comedy, but it also messes with the pacing of the film quite a bit. Halfway through the movie I’m getting antsy because a joke hasn’t occurred in three minutes and like an addict I need my fix. This movie has conditioned me to expect a joke every time a scene changes like one of Pavlov’s dogs, so when a joke doesn’t happen I start to wonder what went wrong.
The movie does eventually gain its footing at the end by giving what might be one of the funniest ends to a movie that I have ever seen. It makes everything that I, and the Griswolds, had to endure suddenly worth it and the ensuing scenes are absolutely hilarious. The very end of the film, however, leads back into the problem that I was discussing before. There was a set up, a punchline (granted, this punchline was much longer), but then everything is resolved as if nothing ever happened. The way the film actually ends happened so fast that it damn-near gave me whiplash. I can respect that National Lampoon’s Vacation knew not to overstay its welcome, but this sheer speed just accentuated the main issue that I had with the movie. How am I supposed to connect with a movie when you never give me a chance to learn about the characters. Luckily for National Lampoon’s Vacation these problems, while still very troubling, are almost completely forgiven due to how funny the movie is. National Lampoon’s Vacation really is something special in terms of comedy. Despite it seeming so disposable it manages to be both hilarious and relatable even today. Even the fact that the film’s plot is so outlandish doesn’t get in the way of people being able to connect with the plights that they are seeing on screen. The film works not only because what happens is funny, but because what happens is relatable (although very exaggerated). This comedy not only works because it was very well written, but because of the wonderful acting that we see in the film. Not only does Chevy Chase once again show that he is a veritable king of comedy, but all of the other actors do a great job of selling their characters as well. And to be honest, I have to show respect to National Lampoon’s Vacation because of all of the pop culture references that the film created. It’s hard to deny that National Lampoon’s Vacation is a huge part of pop culture, even if you haven’t seen it.
Ultimately National Lampoon’s Vacation is not a great movie narrative-wise, but it is absolutely hilarious. Despite its flaws, which can be taxing at times, National Lampoon’s Vacation proves that it is still a force to be reckoned with in the comedy world.
I give National Lampoon’s Vacation a B