*Originally published in the Bainbridge Island Review.
Tis the season to take a break. A Spring Break, that is. And with summer at last in sight (sort of) — it seems an opportune time to start thinking about possible vacation plans.
To drum up a little inspiration, I have singled out a few flicks to get you in the mood. Noticeably absent from this list is, of course, “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983). By way of explanation I’ll just say that I didn’t think anybody needed me to tell them to seek out that classic, and also if you’re going to watch one vacation-themed comedy featuring an iconic turn by John Candy this summer I recommend making it my number two pick instead. More Candy for your money is never a bad thing.
1 ‘What About Bob?’ (1991)
Don’t hassle me I’m local.
The Evanston-born shaman himself, Bill “Groundhog Day, Ghostbustin’” Murray plays needy neurotic Bob Wiley, a nice enough guy but hopelessly plagued by about a million phobias and irrationalities (he claims to be divorced from his ex-wife, not because he is nearly incapable of leaving the house but because she likes Neil Diamond and he does not).
He is reassigned by his desperate psychiatrist to hot shot headpeeper Dr. Leo Marvin (a hilarious turn by Richard Dreyfuss). Their first session goes very well, but when Bob learns the Doc is leaving on vacation he (unsurprisingly) freaks out. Leo tells him to take a vacation of his own (“from your problems, Bob”), which Bob does — going so far as to track down the good doctor and his family at their lake house, befriending the man’s wife and kids (and just about everyone else in town) and ultimately making the shrink question his own sanity.
The film is ranked number 43 on Bravo’s “100 Funniest Movies” and certainly counts as one of Murray’s greatest comedic performances, which is obviously saying a lot.
2 ‘The Great Outdoors’ (1988)
The late great Candy man is taking his family to the remote lakeside cabin resort he himself loved as a child, when his vacation plans are shattered by the arrival of his annoying yuppie brother-in-law (Dan Aykroyd), who has his own freakish family in tow.
Boating accidents, young love, steak-eating contests and a bald-headed bear all play a role in this classic, borne from the pen of the one and only John Hughes.
Though it got a lukewarm review by critics upon release, this is a beloved flick by many, including myself. The duo of Candy and Aykroyd are fantastic — and I’m not the only one who thought that, see also the spectacularly underrated “Nothing But Trouble” (1991) — and the movie clips along almost as fast as summer itself.
3 ‘Spring Breakers’ (2012)
From Harmony Korine, the distinctive director behind “Gummo,” “Julien Donkey-Boy” and “Trash Humpers” (and the imminent “The Beach Bum,” which features a gonzo Matthew McConaughey leading a crazily diverse cast of characters), this bizarre crime story sees James Franco play Alien (“My real name is Al, but truth be told, I’m not from this planet”), a St. Petersburg, Florida DJ (and drug and weapons dealer) charm a trio of young coeds (including Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez) in town to party during Spring Break.
Their strange group affair eventually turns to crime as Alien arms the ski mask- and bikini-clad vixens and they commit a series of violent robberies.
Criticized by some as misogynistic, but hailed by others as a kind of female empowerment film, the movie received generally favorable reactions from critics and was described by The Huffington Post as “’Scarface’ meets Britney Spears.” It has since appeared on several retrospective “best of” lists, and the British film magazine Little White Lies placed it at number 40 on their list of the “50 best films of the decade (so far).”
Spring Break fo’ever.
4 ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ (2008)
The most Judd Apatow-esque movie technically not made by Judd Apatow (he was the producer, though, and the cast/crew is a roundup of mostly typical Apatow faves), this flick is fun as a much-needed getaway.
It stars Jason Segel (also the writer) as Peter Bretter, a music composer for a TV show that happens to feature his girlfriend, the titular Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), in the lead role. Suddenly, after a five-year relationship, she abruptly breaks up with him. Devastated, Peter unwisely chooses to go to Hawaii hoping to shake the breakup blues, but finds Sarah also happens to be vacationing with her new rock star boyfriend Aldous Snow (the best thing Russell Brand has ever done) at the same resort.
Depressed, he begins spending time with a vivacious hotel concierge (Mila Kunis) and an unlikely romance begins to blossom.
Segel is great in the role and the script is smart. Both Bell and Kunis are fun and much more dimensional than women in this kind of movie usually get to be. Also, Brand’s performance is fantastic and one of the best parts of the whole thing.
Richard Roeper highly praised the film and went as far as to say he would put it on his list of “50 favorite comedies of all time.” Though, I guess you might blame this movie’s success for ushering in the era of lame-comedies-set-in-tropical-resorts-so-the-stars-can-vacation-there-for-free subgenre (looking at you “Grown Ups,” “Grown Ups 2,” “Couples Retreat,” etc.).
5 ‘The Ruins’ (2008)
Watch closely, M. Night Shyamalan. This is how you do a killer planet movie.
Maybe more of a vacation warning than encouragement-type movie, this underrated horror abroad flick got a bad rep when it first came out but has slowly gathered a bit of a cult fanbase, of which I am proud to count myself a member.
Based on the novel of the same name by Scott Smith, the movie sees two young American couples on vacation in Mexico where they meet a German tourist who is looking for his brother, whom he last saw departing the beach to visit an archaeological dig at a storied Mayan ruin in the jungle.
The curious gringos head off with him to find his brother and check out the ruins, only to find that once they’ve set foot on the grounds the local villagers, heavily armed with guns and bows, won’t let them leave.
All too soon, they find out why.
The locals are afraid of the vines that cover the ruins, predatory carnivorous plants capable of mimicking sound, and won’t let them go now that they have touched them.
As noted by Trace Thurman for a 10-year retrospective piece about the film for http://www.bloody-disgusting.com, “’The Ruins’ has a lot going for it and deserves to be better loved.”
He wrote, “[It] is notable for nearly all of its scenes taking place in the daylight, something that can be very difficult to make scary and is thus not often seen in horror films,” and also, “The use of practical effects help tremendously with the believability of the film. There is very little actual CGI present, and it when it is used it is reserved for the shots of the moving plants.”
Also, for fans of bloody gore-based horror, it’s a must-see, as those particular moments are incredibly wince-worthy.
It’s the kind of bleak motion picture that will make you need a vacation.
Just remember to watch where you step.
“Youth in Revolt” (2009)
“Weekend at Bernie’s” (1989)
“The Sandlot” (1993)
“Now and Then” (1995)