My Vacation Is Over. So Of Course I’m Thinking About Vacation Movies.

vacation1Just got back from my vacation; my first trip ever to Las Vegas. Had a great time, though I would never, ever go back in summer (my feet felt like they were frying in my shoes). Broke even at the casinos and had fun reconnecting with my friend Diane, who was a wonderful guide. Thanks again, Diane!

I got to thinking about great vacation-themed movies. Here are some of my all-time favorites:

1. National Lampoon’s Vacation (which, coincidentally, was showing on TV while I rested up after my insanely early flight to Vegas): Today happens to be the 30th anniversary of the movie, and it still holds up amazingly well. The saga of food-additive expert Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his family taking a cross-country trip to visit “Wally World” (supposedly based on a family vacation to Disneyland from writer John Hughes’ childhood) is as funny and occasionally horrifying as ever. Each day of the Griswold’s journey is exponentially worse than the last one, as they encounter one disaster after another. Clark’s freeloading in-laws foist grouchy Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and her vicious mutt Dinky on them. Well, I guess it’s not much of a spoiler to say that Aunt Edna and Dinky end up paying for the free ride. A beauteous woman (Christie Brinkley) in a sports car tempts the happily married Clark, and of course the family loses their money along the way, makes an epic wrong turn and learns a big lesson about life (don’t die unless somebody’s home).

Through it all, Clark remains determined—we don’t really want to say obsessed, do we?—to get his family to Wally World and have some fun. So what if he has to commit a crime or two to make it happen.

The movie had several sequels of varying success (the best of the lot is Christmas Vacation) but the first one is the classic and will make you nod in remembrance of every family vacation you had when you were a kid, especially the car trips.

2. The Out-Of-Towners: there are two versions of this movie—in my opinion, the original, starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis is superior to the one starring Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn. Written by Neil Simon, the story chronicles the horrific misadventures of Ohioans George and Gwen Kellerman on their first trip to New York. George is on his way to interview for a big promotion, but he and Gwen find themselves racing to get there in time after their plane is re-routed to Boston. Upon arrival in New York, they hit about half a dozen strikes, including by transit and garbage workers. Of course they arrive too late for their hotel reservation, and spend a night in Central Park, which includes a couple of muggings. Through it all, manic George keeps a list of everyone who did not help them out of their troubles.

As a New Yorker, I’ll admit it’s a little tough to endure what is a very exaggerated account of the city’s many, um, challenges, but the movie is still hilariously funny, mainly because of George and Gwen’s naiveté, incredible bad luck and stubborn refusal to let the city beat them down.

3. Lost In America: it might be a slight stretch to call this a “vacation” movie, but I have to include it on the list. Professionals David and Linda Howard (Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty) decide to drop out of society after David fails to get a big promotion at work. They “drop out” by selling all their assets and buying a top-of-the-line Winnebago. Planning to roam America and “touch Indians” the way they once dreamed of during their hippie days, they set out for Las Vegas (yay!) to renew their vows.

Of course, the worst place to go if you’re trying to get away from money-grubbing society is Las Vegas, as the Howards quickly learn. While David sleeps in their Vegas honeymoon suite, Linda gambles away their entire nest egg. Forced to rethink their plans, David and Linda try to cope with being actual drop-outs of the life they left behind. Unsurprisingly, they’re not very good at it. One of my favorite Albert Brooks movies, he perfectly captures that final embrace of 1980s Yuppie-hood.

Cover of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Cover of Vicky Cristina Barcelona

4. Vicky Christina Barcelona: Woody Allen was invited to make a movie in Spain and concocted this delicious confection, about two American friends vacationing in Barcelona, one an uptight engaged woman (Rebecca Hall), the other a troubled but adventurous spirit (Scarlet Johansson) who both become captivated by a Spaniard (Javier Bardem). He seduces both, ending up in a three-way relationship with Johansson’s character and his ex-wife (Penelope Cruz). As in many of Allen’s movies, the characters are dissatisfied with what they have, and want something more out of life—even after they get what they think they want. Set against the backdrop of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, you can almost understand the characters’ dilemma and how they want just a little bit more than they have.

Cover of "Up (Single Disc Widescreen)"
Cover of Up (Single Disc Widescreen)

5. Up: it’s truly difficult to designate a favorite of the many wonderful Pixar animated features, but if pressed, I think I would have to pick Up. Balloon seller Carl Frederickson (voiced by Ed Asner) has lost the love of his life, his wife Ellie, to cancer. Rather than sell his house to developers and move into an old-age home, he inflates hundreds of balloons and makes his house airborne, with the idea of heading to Paradise Falls in South America, something he and Ellie always dreamed of doing. He unwittingly takes with him a young boy named Russell. Landing in Paradise Falls, they encounter strange wildlife (including a dog who can talk!) and Carl’s childhood idol, explorer Charles F. Muntz.

One of the most engaging and poignant contemplations of aging and what it means to live a fulfilling life, Up is an epic adventure story for people of all ages.

6. If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium: have you ever gone on one of those European bus tours that cram nine countries into ten days? Well, I once went on a bus tour of Ireland and Great Britain by bus, and all I can say is, those who took the former have greater constitutions than I.  Starring Suzanne Pleshette and Ian McShane, as well as an (at the time) all-star cast, this movie chronicles a bus tour through Europe that is TWICE as long and probably only slightly crazier than the real-life version. It pokes fun at the Ugly Americans who pack up rolls and rolls of toilet paper, (because, you know, Europeans have never heard of the stuff), get on the wrong bus, tell wildly inaccurate war stories and fall for the handsome tour guide. It’s a bit dated but if you’ve ever gone on a tour of any kind, it still resonates.

Do you have a favorite vacation-themed movie? Let us know in the comments!

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