Last week, I had the chance to attend VIBE magazine’s special screening of Vacation in New York City. The house was packed. VIBE magazine has always been my favorite and so I was curious to see their support of this non-African-American leading movie.
I won’t lie. Twenty minutes into the movie and I was struck with a heavy urge to leave. My mistake, however, was sitting in the center. Any mid-show exit would’ve been glaringly awkward. So I stayed put, hoping my intuition was wrong and that this movie wasn’t headed downhill. But it was. It was fixing to be bad. This Vacation remake was not worth a free ticket. Or, even a penny.
Vacation has some genuine comedic moments. But, that was overshadowed by its more serious, cinematic offenses. It was nasty and mean-spirited. Misleading and shallow. All maybe just to get an R-rating that would increase ticket sales.
I’m not sure what’s worse; dishonoring the original or reflecting a sad state of of where American film comedy stand today. Sounds dramatic, I know. But recently, I’ve sampled quite a few popular, but lackluster blockbuster movies (i.e. The Wedding Ringer, Hot Tub Machine 2, Duffy, Pitch Perfect 2) and have spotted a few unattractive trends. A theme of raunchy, distasteful comedy replacing any social tact or frame of story.
We’re in an era where movies like 50 Shades of Gray and Twilight have cult followings and TMZ tabloid stories run the world. But so what? In cinema, there are some non-negotiables.
Here’s all the reasons Vacation is quite awful.
For starters, Vacation disservices itself by aiming to be a charming, light hearted Brady Bunch TV movie special while also trying to mimic the absurdity of a Jackass movie. It was a bad genre mix. One that made it hard to figure out whether the movie targeted underage teenagers or the wholesome, movie going family.
Vacation makes the mistake of using its youngest child actor as a vessel for its dirtiest sex jokes and raunchiest profanity. All the younger brother could do was shout out expletives and be the bully. He was a most degenerative character and out of place. I couldn’t get pass his false sense of being a grown-up. Some bits were funny but too much wasn’t. Which begs the question if kids are the new vessels for adult humor? Is this the new rated R?
Absurdity as Comedy
Another offense was the story’s heavy reliance on absurd, emotionally suffocating conflict. It just couldn’t pick a lane: to be a wholesome family flick or showcase crude behavior and gagging visuals for laughs. Now, I didn’t walk in expecting a heavy narrative for this kind of film. That would’ve been naive. But still, the movie tries mighty hard to be a good story. It might’ve been better served as a Vince Vaughn flick. At least, we can expect a most refined naughtiness from him. Ed Helms & Christina Applegate just couldn’t hold up the level up of ratchetness (bad behavior) the writer’s intended. Which leads me to its next offense…..
Unapologetically hijacking Black Culture (for sound byte glory)
As a Black woman, I’m embarrassed when non-blacks try too hard (innocently or not) to flatter the Black culture with cheap imitation. It’s obnoxious and sleazy, even. Vacation had too many weird moments where actors took awkward preparations to plug-in what was gonna be an unnatural, politically incorrect sound byte. Christina Applegate’s charming, innocent character blurts out (after defending herself to a few teenagers) that “These bitches need a lesson!” Her 9-year-old son, Kevin Griswold, professes that the theme park they visit is “Dope as f**k” and later, gloats after a brawl how bad they just “f*cked that other family up.” The dialogue itself wasn’t bad, just the context it was spoken in. Clearly, it was an attempt to humor audiences. But which audiences are supposed to be laughing? Were the writer’s trying to make Blacks, like me, connect more to its characters by their not-so-savvy use of my culture’s slang? Or do outsiders find the Black culture that amusing? Who knows. I can appreciate clever puns and jabs about Black culture. But imitation isn’t flattery. And that’s what made whatever the writer’s of Vacation’s were trying to do that much more insulting than pleasing.
Outside my political thoughts and cinematic preferences, I’m most disappointed that Vacation did a damn good job to further kill memories of the good ol’ family summer road trip flick and the nostalgic National Lampoon. Indeed, I did laugh during the movie. But it didn’t boil down to how much humor it stocked. It was about how much more fun I wasn’t having because of its overall crudity. (Seriously, there were some gross scenes.) And this wouldn’t be a big deal if most major movie releases weren’t aiming for the same kind of obnoxious comedy. But they are.
We’ll never know if this is the fault of naughty writers or empty-headed studio execs. But in the case that its the studio’s bad deed and, indeed, a fat man in cigar smoke-filled room sits back, controlling the narratives our films present to world… then, I say to him: STOP THAT SH*T. And start seeking more quality content to put on our screens. Because we are watching. We do care. And movies like this aren’t impressive. So get it together!
Peace and love.
Signed, the Red Pen Critic 💋
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