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Family Bonding in a Haywire World

Vacation (2015) on IMDb

Plot Overview

When Russell “Rusty” Griswold (Ed Helms) a yankee in Chicago earned his pilot's stripes, he scorned corporate offers and imposed on him­self the glass ceiling of flying an Airbus A–13 for regional Econo-Air so he'd be more available to the family he wanted to have. Pretty southern devil-may-care sorority adventuress Debbie “Do Any­thing” crossing his path fell for the uniform, and they got hitched not knowing much about each other. Now they have two boys: the older an awkward teenager James (Skyler Gisondo) who's a sissified budding musician taking after his easy­going dad, and his younger brother Kevin (Steele Stebbins) who's a world class menace in the making, for now content to torment his brother—he takes after his unbridled mom. When Rusty perceives they haven't bonded like a regular family (“The family's in a rut; we've got to shake things up”), he decides to, as his wife puts it, “redo your vacation from thirty years ago.” They rent a car and hit the road from Chicago to L.A. (“Walley World here we come.”) This has got to be good.


In his opening 18 minute flight from South Bend to Chicago, Rusty gives the stick to his elderly co-pilot Harry (David Clennon) who thanks him for sticking up for him with corporate (“Corporate says you're too old to fly”), and he heads back to the head, stopping to encourage a boy to pursue his pilot dream. Under Harry's incapable hands the plane lurches (“We call that turbu­lence”) springing the captain forward onto his female passenger's breasts, and a second time into the boy's lap and the father's mouth. Uppity Larry had taken them up to 60,000 feet.

At home Rusty sorts out some of the younger brother's taunting about the elder brother's sexual identity, with the mom favoring open acceptance of “gender fluidity.” This film is taking a stab at ageism, political correctness. and homo­phobia, tying them all together in a gay-friendly manner.

They hit the vacation road in the only car available to rent on short notice, a 2015 Tartan Prancer, “the Honda of Albania,” sort of a boxy, powder blue, modified Toyota Previa. It's a hybrid. The electrical plug on the end of a retrac­table cord has several male pins surrounding a dominating cork­screw that would make it impossible to insert it into any female connector known to man. However, with a half twist, two male connectors can be mated to each other. (The movie actually will show a penis graffito scrawled on James's guitar, another drawn on the side of the car, and a penis out­line on their host's shorts.) Thus in our minds this is a homo-gender vehicle, but these cars aren't going any­where on each other's power, no more than homo­sexuals are going to propagate the race. How­ever, since homos aren't even mentioned in the movie (aside from some experimenting from Debbie “Do Anything” whose "last name" can be rearranged to spell "nth in gay" when recounting her episodes), this is a case of laughing with the homos not at them. The straights are having the same kind of troubles queers do. Rusty can't get the plug back in the service door. Once your electrical orientation is out of the closet, there's no putting it back.

The gasoline power option seems to mimic gay and lesbian marriage. According to Dr. Ide: “The Con­tem­por­ary Christian stan­dard was defined not by the bible but gen­er­ated by Roman law as defined by the jurist Modest­inus who argued that marriage was ‘consortium omnis vitae, divini et humani iuris communi­catio: a life-long part­ner­ship, and a sharing of civil and religious rights’” (83–5). It was the state of Massachusetts, historical enclave of the Puritans, that started the ball rolling in America allowing civil same-sex marriage. According to cultural historian David Hackett Fischer, the Puritans had “a cultural idea of marriage that was unique to the Puritan colonies. … The Puritans of New England rejected all the Anglican ideas. They believed that marriage was not a religious but a civil contract” (77). Having split the church from the state, New England marriages eventually became suscept­ible to the state declaring in favor of same-sex unions. Courts spread the idea to some more states (but not to others.) In 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the states' bans against same-sex marriage was pseudo-unconsti­tutional—marriage isn't actually mentioned in the Constitution. Yet quoting from the “Catholic Sentinel” of July 3, 2015 (15):

The main opinion recognized in several places the role of religious beliefs in the questions surrounding same-sex marriage. Kennedy said toward the conclusion of his 28-page opinion that “it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

The First Amendment ensures protection for religious organizations and individuals as they seek to teach the principles “that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths,” he continued, and to “their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.”

In hard core atheist Albania, at least until recently, it was illegal for priests to perform weddings, so believing couples of the faithful after getting married in a civil ceremony, would have a secret religious one in the woods. The Griswolds' Albanian car seems to mimic this situation by having dual gas tanks (same total volume.) This is comedic, but since we are laughing at straights in this parallel predicament, we are laughing with homos, not at them.

The Griswolds in their queer-mobile go trucking across the country picking up a loose convoy with Teddy Bear Trucker (Norman Reedus) a suspected pedophile, and a pretty girl Adena (Catherine Missal) in a jeep, roughly James's age.

Things come to a head when they reach Holbrook, AZ. Mom and dad sneak out of the motel to “mix it up a bit” by having “sex on a public monument.” Four Corners. They get busted for indecency … by authorities from several different states who have different statutes on indecency. Now the heteros get laughed at for what was happening to the homos with different regulations w.r.t. marriage.

Back at the motel the kids get into their own trouble paralleling what happened to homos in the religious/traditional sphere. James had earlier been advised by his (woefully inexperienced) father in answer to his question, what does rim job mean? Ignorant pops takes a stab at it, and I'll give you a parallel from novelist James Tucker. In an inter­view with the media, one of his characters is described as,

Abruptly it hit him. His mouth opened slightly as his hand came up to his lips. The camera­man eased in for a closeup … .

First priority was maintaining a stone-faced expression. (148–9)

It's logical to say the mouth is a kind of rim, a rim job is keeping the mouth closed by dint of will. Similarly, Rusty tells his kid a mouth is a rim, there­fore a rim job is closed-mouth kissing. On the road in the wider community, a rim job can mean one of two things. After the car rolled over, taking it to the shop to fix the wheels could call for a rim job. Or sitting alone at night with Adena, David innocently suggests a rim job, and this more experienced girl will take it as some­thing obscene.

That parallels the dyad gay marriage. We all know what gay means, it means homosexual usually. And we know what marriage means. And quite innocently we put them together to mean a marriage of two gays. But that's the minority position to any­one in the know. Through any of the states this family traveled, either by elected representatives or through direct vote, the majority had decided marriage to be defined as between one man and one woman. Several courts—including the Supreme Court—ruled instead that same-sex marriages were to be allowed, but that's a legal definition, the law dealing in unambiguous terms, not vague ones like gay marriage that can mean different things. There­fore it's the popular vote that stands on that one, as Justice Kennedy allowed popular expression for religious and other reasons. "Gay marriage" can mean one of two things. Solomon advised a man to, (Eccl. 9:9) “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity.” That is exactly what Debbie (Christina Apple­gate) and Rusty are trying to do on the road where all their attempts at fun are in vain, to put more spark back in their marriage, some gaiety as in imitation of other couples they see. Or gay could reflect the current sense of "stupid", as Kate explained youth lingo to Ben in the movie “Love Is Strange”: “He doesn't mean homo­sexual, Uncle Ben, he just means stupid.” Since the Griswolds' marriage was a mismatch we could say it's oh, so gay, that is stupid.

James is like his old man, connecting up with a girl who is more sexually experienced than him. His brother Kevin takes after his mom, showing “improvement” after association with the older brother, as the dad helped reform the mom. Rusty's brother-in-law was of a conservative political bent, and Rusty's dad Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) pegs that one's marriage as, “Their marriage is a sham” for sleeping around on each other. Thus we get the bad example of not following the "one man/one woman" rule of marriage, although from the hetero­sexual stand­point here.

Production Values

This (2015) extension of the “” series, following National Lampoon's “Vacation” (1983), was written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, with credit for character creation going to John Hughes. It stars Ed Helms, Christina Apple­gate, and Skyler Gisondo, with good supporting roles filled by Chris Hems­worth, Steele Stebbins, Chevy Chase, and Beverly D'Angelo. Norman Reedus plays a trucker and sus­pected pedo­phile, Charlie Rich fills in as a manic rafting instructor, and Ron Living­ston is a hot­shot personal competitor from a major 747 air­line. Ed Helms is perfect in the role of Rusty Griswold, as earnest and bumbling as his dad was, but he makes the character his own. Christina Apple­gate as his wife is good, but her chemistry with her husband seems strained. The actors playing their kids are annoying befit­ting the plot.

MPAA rated it R for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and brief graphic nudity. Be sure, this movie has a hard R rating, definitely not for kids. There are lots of filthy words, and some naked people in it, so do not let your young children watch this movie. In both the opening and closing credits, partially obscured vacation photos are shown, then what­ever is covering part of the photo is moved away, usually revealing a humorous twist. Even these pictures are more offensive than Lampoon's earlier offerings ever were. Some familiar music from the earlier series survives.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

In conclusion I found it an enjoyable picture despite its raunchiness. If you go into it with low expectations, you won't be disappointed. (DVD est. release date November, 2015.)

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: None of the Above. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: three stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Fischer, David Hackett. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America.
  New York: Oxford UP, 1989. Print, WEB.

Ide, Arthur Frederick. Noah & the Ark: The Influence of Sex, Homophobia and Heterosexism in the Flood Story and its Writing.
  Las Colinas: Monument Press, 1992. Print.

Tucker, James. Hocus Corpus. New York: Onyx Books, 1999. Print.