'Vacation': Does it rely solely on gross-out humor?

'Vacation' centers on Ed Helms as Rusty Griswold, son of Clark, who decides to recreate the family road trip he took as a child. Many critics are saying that even for those who aren't offended by crude humor, the new movie is over-the-top.

Hopper Stone/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
'Vacation' stars (from l.) Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Christina Applegate, and Ed Helms.

“Vacation” is a continuation of the story of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and is markedly different from the original – but is that a good thing?

The new movie stars Ed Helms of “The Office” as Rusty Griswold, Clark Griswold’s now-adult son who, remembering the vacations he took with his family as a child, decides to embark on a trip of his own with his family. Christina Applegate of “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” Steele Stebbins, and Skyler Gisondo co-star. 

The first film, which was released in 1983, has become a comedy classic – it was directed by “Ghostbusters” actor Harold Ramis and written by John Hughes, who wrote and/or directed such 1980s classics as “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” It starred Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Anthony Michael Hall, and Dana Barron. It was notable more for boundary-pushing humor than gross-out humor.

But many reviewers are complaining about the gags in the new movie, primarily because they seem to be focused on disgusting the audience as much as possible, and that seems to be all there is to the movie’s humor. The movie includes extended jokes about vomit, human excrement, and animal body parts and one critic wrote that the co-directors, Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley, “substitute coarseness for genuine cleverness…. a sequence [with vomiting] is a prime example of this film’s mood of excess…. another scene [with an animal being killed is] strictly for viewers who confuse unprecedented grossness with delicious drollness.”

Another reviewer said that the film has “the sort of self-congratulatory vulgarity that seems to have spewed forth from the (junior high) locker room instead of the writers room.” Another wrote that the film “ups the gross-out ante without actually bothering to bring the Griswolds into the 21st century.” 

Gross-out humor is, of course, not new, but what would convince directors to amp up its presence in a movie? Some recent big comedy hits have had their share of gross-out humor, which may lead studio executives to imagine that it’s what audiences want to see. But these hit comedies weren’t solely focused on it.

The 2011 smash hit “Bridesmaids” had a scene set in a bridal shop that involved crude humor, but the real focus was the relationship between protagonist Annie (Kristen Wiig) and her best friend, bride-to-be Lillian. Overall, reviewers considered the movie “beguilingly witty” and “clever.” And recent box office hit “Neighbors,” which also had various over-the-top gags, also had story lines – about a couple worried about losing their cool status when a fraternity moves in next door and college students concerned with their futures – that reviewers found engaging. One critic wrote that “the fully developed relationships between the characters ground the film,” while another said of the film, “You expect hardcore hilarity from ‘Neighbors,’ and you get it. It's the nuance that sneaks up on you.” 

The problem with “Vacation” seems to be that even for those who aren’t offended by gross-out humor, there's nothing more to the film. 

“Vacation” will be released on July 29.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.