(Steve at MovieMovieBlogBlog is celebrating his fourth blogversary with this blogathon. Guess what? Today is also MY blogversary! I have been blogging a couple of years longer than Steve. My first blog post appeared on July 8, 2012.
Happy to share a bogversary date with you, Steve!)
Many people have memories—some happy, some sad, some hilarious, some horrifying—of family vacations. The parents and the kids piling into the car and hitting the road is a common summer event. John Hughes wrote a piece for National Lampoon about his family’s summer road trip when he was a kid, which quickly got Hollywood’s attention, probably because it’s such a universal subject. However, it was rejected by several studios for being “too episodic.”
Eventually it did get made, and thus was born one of my favorite movie foursomes, The Griswold family.
Food additive scientist Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is enthusiastically planning his family’s annual vacation. This year, they intend to drive from Chicago to California, ending up at Walley World, a famous theme park.
The trip immediately begins to go awry. For one thing, when Clark goes with his son Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) to pick up the new car he ordered for the trip, he is forced to take a “Wagon Queen Family Truckster” after his trade-in car is crushed.
Along with his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and daughter Audrey (Dana Barron) the family hits the road, singing the “Marty Moose” song in anticipation of all the fun they will have at Walley World. At each destination, they face ever-increasing mishaps. While on a detour to Kansas to visit some of Ellen’s distant relatives (Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn) they find themselves giving her deadbeat cousin all their money and forced to give a ride to her Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and her vicious dog Dinky.
Several times along the way Clark sees a beautiful young woman (Christie Brinkley) driving a Ferrari and flirts with her, even though he and Ellen seem to have a strong marriage.
The longer they stay on the road, the more the disasters pile up, including tragic outcomes for both Dinky and Aunt Edna. At times the family tries to persuade Clark to turn back, but he refuses.
“I’m on a quest to see a moose!”
Chevy Chase was the first break-out star of Saturday Night Live, though his career has had some really wild ups and downs over the last four decades. Clark Griswold is likely his most iconic role (which has been repeated several times in the sequels to this first movie). Somehow, he captures the sadness of a busy man desperate make the most of the small amount of time he has with his family, while being hilariously inept and obsessed at the same time. Clark W. Griswold is a straight arrow who is thisclose to blowing a gasket whenever his good intentions go up in flames.
But the movie does not hinge on Clark Griswold alone. His wife Ellen wants to have faith in her husband, but knows that somehow, someway, he’s going to lead the family into disaster. With grim determination she tries to set things right or look past his errors in judgement.
Rusty and Audrey are typical fighting kids in the back seat of the car, but they also have their own personalities. Rusty has way more on the ball than his dad and Audrey kind of knows she’s the family afterthought. (At one point, Clark can’t remember her name.)
Audrey also gets one of the best lines in the movie:
Ellen: I hope you kids have learned something about death.
Audrey: Yeah, don’t die unless somebody’s home!
Like Clark, his family wants everything to turn out right and for their vacation to be a success. Together, they joyously follow him . . . into even more disaster.
What’s most fabulous about the Griswolds’ trek across country is that most of us know their woes are only a little bit exaggerated. Everyone has stories about family vacations derailed by bad luck, or dads who refuse to give up on giving their family a dream vacation against all the odds.