This particular Screening Suggestion is directed more to the specific audience who appreciates a good coming of age, teen angst comedy that's complete with a good dash of drama. To hint at the kind of thing you're in for, this is one of two written film projects from the director of 'Superbad' and 'Paul', Greg Mottola. In other words, one can expect some fairly low-brow comedy, but perhaps a different style as well. This holds water when you discover that a lot of this was apparently based on Mottola's real-life experiences while working at Adventureland Amusement Park in New York.
That said, I think the real-life attachment is mostly just a backdrop for the film, much like Kevin Smith's experiences ended up making 'Clerks' a thing. It's more about knowing how things work in the environment. Either way, it makes for a pretty good movie that, while not made in the 80s, highlights all of the charm of the 80s. That particular 80s aim goes into the overall plot as well, as there is something of a "Soap Opera"-ish tone to a lot of things happening here. However, fear not, because this is a comedy first. And rest assured that although people like to sit on the fence about its two leads, the supporting cast is made up of comedy superstars who really make it worth the time.
We kick off in 1987 when recent college graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has plans to vacation in Europe upon graduation. However, his parents run into financial problems that amount to James having to get a summer job instead. Eventually, he finds work at the local Pittsburgh, PA amusement park, "Adventureland" where he'll at least be able to work with his old friend, Tommy Frigo (Matt Bush). It's not long before James runs into a spot of trouble during one of the carnival games he's helming, and he's rescued by another games worker named Emily (Kristen Stewart), and soon the two become close, but James feels his feelings just a little bit more.
As these things go, however, James finds himself in stiff competition with Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds); a married man who is having an active affair with Emily, obvious to the audience but not obvious to James. So most of this unfolding love triangle story relates to what I said before about this being for those who like a good teen-angsty comedy. But after all this, my readers are probably wondering what it is I do like about this movie, as it checks off so many things on the "Me No Like" list. To be truthful, actors Eisenberg and Stewart don't necessarily land on that list for me like they might for so many others. I believe anyone in the business has their hits and misses. And quite honestly, they have pretty good chemistry together.
The stand-out thing on the aforementioned "list" would, however, be the whole love triangle plot, which is usually a big "eye-roller" for me. And while even here that's kind of true, it's really all of the supporting cast that gives this movie its ultimate charm. Beyond who I've already mentioned, we also have park runners Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, respectively), another games worker named Joel (Martin Starr, leaning a little towards his "Bill" character from 'Freaks and Geeks'), and this is incredibly random but even Josh Pais shows up (the dude who gave his voice to Raphael in the original 'Ninja Turtles' movie).
Aside from a good cast, however, I suppose there's a certain relatability factor here as well. I can actually see myself relating to James in a lot of different ways here, so I think there's something I understand on a certain level that makes this not just a love triangle story, but one aimed a little more towards me. I might not suggest that this is a classic of any sort, but it was an interesting movie that I found a lot of my peers latching onto at the time. Released in 2009, I would have been in my late 20s and to some degree, there was still a lot more relatability to the story. Nowadays, it's almost a nostalgic reminder of what it means to fall for who could be the wrong person. The whole thing is pretty bittersweet, really. But it does make for a decent summer romance story altogether.
What About Bob?
I haven't seen this one in a while, but upon this viewing, I kind of got stuck in wondering if it was "appropriate" for this day and age considering several things within it. Just one example is the idea of Bill Murray being a complete stranger and sharing a room with your pre-adolescent son. It's an example of a movie that certainly has a good idea, but one could almost quite honestly see this as a horror movie these days. More on that later.
The film introduces us to multi-phobic Bob Wiley (Murray). He's a friendly man, albeit a little strange, and has been in and out of therapy for years. This is despite his big fear of leaving his apartment and going out into the world. His current therapist, tired of dealing with him, sends him to Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss); a man with a big ego about his new book 'Baby Steps' who's just about to head on summer vacation for a month with his family. Upon their first meeting, Bob decides Marvin is the one who can help him, but his leaving puts a wrench in Bob's works. And this is sort of where things get creepy.
Eventually, Bob goes through a sort of maximum effort to track Dr. Marvin down to his summer home in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. Marvin doesn't take it too well, but well enough that he manages to "help" Bob by telling him to "take a vacation from his problems" whenever they come up. Bob takes it a little too literally and ends up taking a vacation by spending his time getting to know Dr. Marvin's family; wife, Fay (Julie Hagerty); daughter, Anna (Kathryn Erbe); and son, Siggy (Charlie Korsmo). The family finds Bob charming and fun, but all he really ends up being to Leo is a pain in the ass.
As the film goes on, Bob befriends the family in different ways, finding out that he's not necessarily alone with all of his phobias amid various other problems. It's a pretty good way to see the mental health perspective. Some are worse off than others, but I believe it's true that everyone has something they have to deal with, and it's important for those who suffer from mental health problems to know they aren't alone. So there is a level of relatability to this between a mental health patient and the family of a therapist. In the meantime, the patient gets under the skin of the therapist so much, that it even goes so far as to have us question "who's the one with the mental health problem, really?" (not to spoil too much).
Now, as sweet as it all sounds, the truth of the matter is that this still does have a sort of horrific idea looming underneath it all. Imagine you're a therapist and one of your patients tracks you and your family down while you're on vacation because he thinks his problems have gotten out of hand. Your family's first impressions of him are positive, but the truth of the matter is, that this man's a complete stranger. You then see him hanging out with your family members alone, including your wife, your pre-adolescent son, and your teenage daughter. Remember, you just met this guy, you know he has massive problems, he tracked you down because of them...
As far as I'm concerned, Dr. Leo Marvin falls under that category of "antagonists" who were right the whole time. Every bit of his behaviour in this is justified - except maybe being insanely hung up on his son learning how to dive (although it's explained why, it's still kind of strange). Much like viewing 'Ferris Bueller' as though it's Cameron's story, this is also fun to watch again, not so much as the comedy it is, but a psychological thriller of a home invasion movie. Don't believe me? Honestly, check it out. At first, I was gonna put this under Screening Suggestions because I remember loving it when I was a kid... but now I just want people to see it through a different lens.
National Lampoon's Vacation
For yours truly, there really is no better 'National Lampoon's Vacation' movie than the third in the series, 'Christmas Vacation', which can be watched every single year without hesitation around the holiday season. For as much as people tend to agree with me on that, however, it does get interesting when it comes down to what order people place the other films in terms of quality. For my money, I probably have to give it up to the original that started it all.
For many, this first entry is pretty basic and bland. To be perfectly honest there's not a whole hell of a lot that happens here. But what it does do well is examine the family vacation scenario, and give us a comedy based on all of the faults of a family road trip. Really, it works the same way as 'Christmas Vacation', which highlights all of the downfalls of an old-fashioned family Christmas. 'European' and 'Vegas' take things to different levels, and they're entertaining enough, but there's something almost missing in them about the relatability of the family dynamic in the situation. As far as 'Christmas Vacation 2' and 'Vacation' 2015, as far as I'm concerned, they aren't a part of things, just like 'Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' for Indiana Jones, or everything straight to video for 'American Pie'.
'Vacation' is, simply enough, about Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wishing to spend more time with his wife, Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) and kids, Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron). This is probably a good time to mention to those more familiar with Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis in the respective brother/sister roles that indeed, these kids change every time. Anyway, the plan is for a cross-country trip from Chicago to Southern California, seeing plenty along the way, and finally ending up at Walley World for their final destination. In the real world, it would be kind of like travelling to Disneyland. But of course, as one can predict, what starts off as a fun family road trip soon turns into a nightmare of constant disappointments and failures.
Some of these include Clark being tempted by a mystery woman (Christie Brinkley) driving a Ferrari, getting vandalized in a bad neighbourhood, a visit with good old Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid), his wife, Catherine (Miriam Flynn), their somewhat twisted children, Vicki and Dale (Jane Krakowski and John P. Navin Jr., respectively) and the hilarious Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and of course, for anyone who has seen the film, the big punchline towards the end that probably isn't even really a spoiler anymore, but it's kind of what makes the movie worth checking out in the first place. The whole film, again like 'Christmas Vacation' is here to say "you're not alone on all these crazy family mishaps".
Despite it being on the older side of classic comedies at this point, I think there's still a relatability to a movie like this that can't really be denied. AGAIN like 'Christmas Vacation', there's just something along the line here that will pop up having the audience say "been there", even if the film is portraying something a little more extreme. Do bear in mind though that this is still R-rated, and not exactly a family film (although I can't say this is anything "hard-R") so it's a little edgier than the other three. But with that said, sometimes edgy is a good thing, and this is a pretty good example of such a thing for its time. If you're looking for a good, classic road trip comedy, this is definitely a good place to look.
The Great Outdoors
There is definitely something extra special about this movie in that it somehow manages to capture the best parts of a Canadian wilderness retreat (even though it takes place in Wisconsin and is generally filmed at California's Bass Lake). But, as a Canadian, much like the 'Friday the 13th' movies do so well, it captures the wilderness spirit of the... great outdoors... and provides us with the perfect fun-time comedy to throw on during your first night's stay at a cottage. Even though it highlights all that can go wrong, there's something about it that just makes you wanna get out there and go camping or something - at the very least, unplug for a little while.
This one is a scripted John Hughes (who needs no introduction if you lived in the 80s for even a split second) product with director Howard Deutch. This same collaboration would give us some real classics along the way as well, like 'Pretty in Pink' and 'Some Kind of Wonderful' - a couple of solids in the way of portrayal of teen angst in the 80s. But while this has a teeny tiny bit of that concerning one single character, this one's more about the laughs provided by Dan Aykroyd and the late, great John Candy. The way these two play off each other here can get pretty hysterical, and you'd be pretty hard-pressed at the time to find a better Canadian collaboration, concerning the two comic geniuses.
We kick it off with a pretty grand introduction to the Ripley family - happy-go-lucky father, Chet (Candy), his lovely wife, Connie (Stephanie Faracy) and two sons, Buck and Ben (Chris Young and Ian Michael Giatti, respectively); Buck being the one with the eventual teenage love interest on the "girl for the summer", Cammie (Lucy Deakins) who may have the best dimples on the face of the planet. Today, she no longer acts but lives her life as an attorney, and I have to commend her for following her heart with her career decision in the end! Anyway, the family heads out to a cabin in the wilderness that says "camp here!" more than "there's an evil curse here", as general "cabin in the woods" movies seem to go.
It's not long, however, until their vacation is stormed by Connie's sister, Kate (Annette Bening), Chet's brother-in-law, Roman (Aykroyd), and their own set of 'Shining' twins, Cara and Mara (Hilary Gordon and Rebecca Gordon, respectively). From there, the general idea behind the film's comedy is seeing just how many ways Roman can manage to step on Chet's family vacation. The ensuing gags, both visual and verbal, are full of knee-slappers. The physical comedy here, especially on Chet, is something almost to be admired. It ranges from being put through the ringer on his water skis, to a golf ball to the schnoz, to getting whacked in the face while Roman tries to capture a bat.
Beyond all of the physical comedy, you're also introduced to a slew of great, memorable characters who really stand out almost more than this story's mains. The highlights here include Reg (Britt Leach) - a man who has been struck by lighting a significant number of times; Wally (Robert Prosky) - the cabin owner, who likes to look before he leaps; and to top it off, we even get characters in a few critters. These namely include some trash-loving raccoons, who the film gives subtitles to, and of course, the "Bald-Headed Bear", played by Bart the Bear; a talent who has also starred in titles like 'The Bear', 'The Edge', 'White Fang' and 'Legends of the Fall'.
From my perspective, this has always provided me with a good laugh for as long as it has been in existence, and it has never even remotely aged on me (save for maybe a little bit of older technology we see). When you get down to the bare bones of this one, it's sort of a timeless classic of comedy and has a little something for everyone. I can always highly recommend kicking one's Summer off with this title, just to get you in the mood for the beautiful scenery and moments that the summer can yet provide. This highlights a lot that can "go wrong", but when you can relate to these things to some degree, it moves the movie much closer to one's heart. If nothing else, at least check it out as a true, blue John Candy classic!