Revisiting my favorite comedy: National Lampoon’s Vacation
Quoting memorable lines from comedies is a total “guy thing.” I’ve yet to meet a member of the fairer sex who can–or has the will to–engage in trading lines from highly-quotable movies like “Superbad,” “Caddyshack,” “Spinal Tap,” and “Clerks.” It’s just something we boys do.
Since high school, “Vacation” has been the one sure-fire movie in my library; it always makes me laugh, despite my numbing amount of repeat viewings.
I gave it a rest for a few years, finally pulling it back out this past Monday for a trip home from Montreal. Honestly and truly, the movie still holds up (ignoring the dated music that pops in during the Christie Brinkley sequences).
There are people who’d have you believe that all “Vacations” are created equal; that “Christmas Vacation” has its annual merits, or that the “Big Ben, Parliament” moment in “European Vacation” is enough for the whole movie to coast on. Not true. None of the “Vacation” movies are as consistent, or even close to being as funny, as the first.
“Vacation” was one of John Hughes’ earliest screenplays, and it also happens to be his edgiest. Director Harold Ramis, generally more regarded as a writer, absolutely got the best out of his cast, particularly Chevy Chase. Most accounts of Chase during his time as a comedy A-Lister (and even many of the years to follow) are unflattering. In the oral history of Saturday Night Live, “Live, From New York,” Chase was painted by his colleagues as a rude and insufferable pain in the ass; an unlikeable egomaniac. Getting the best out of Chase as his star power was at its peak, his career perched halfway between “Caddyshack” and “Fletch,” had to have been no small feat for Ramis.
For me, the movie comes down to its sharp, dry, dialog and the charms of Chevy Chase. The older I get, the more I realize that Clark Griswold isn’t a clueless buffoon; he’s me. For that matter, he’s every other one of my married-with-kids friends. Watching him try to find safe passage out of East St. Louis, or attempting to negotiate his way through a car repair with a crooked desert mechanic, it hit me that I’d probably handle things in much the same way. He eats shit and plods through various hells, all for the basic goal of making his kids happy. Clark Griswold is the everyman.
Growing up, I loved “Vacation” for its quotability. Now, I love it for how much I identify with it.
And sure, the quotes still make me chuckle, giggle, and laugh out loud. Some favorites:
“I don’t give a frog’s fat ass who went through what. We need money! Hey, Russ, wanna look through Aunt Edna’s purse?”
“We watch his program. We buy his toys, we go to his movies, he owes us! Doesn’t he owe us? He owes the Griswalds, right? Fucking-A right, he owes us!”
(Clark) “Excuse me, could you please tell me how to get back on the expressway?
(Pimp) “Fuck yo mama!”
(Clark) “Thank you very much.”
(Ellen) “Normie’s always been flakey.”
(Clark) “He’s always been a jagoff.”
And the most legendary “Vacation” scene of all: