The Great Outdoors

The Great Outdoors. Universal Pictures 1988.
The Great Outdoors. Universal Pictures 1988.

Before watching the movie:

The 80s, a camping trip, a family rivalry, two comedy legends. Why didn’t I know about this sooner?

I just found this while looking for something lighter, since I intentionally tried to keep January dark to offset my tendency to hit recent comedies, and it’s time for a short break.

So, Dan Aykroyd smugly one-upping John Candy on their family vacation in some mountainside lake area it is.

After watching the movie:

Chet Ripley brings his family to a spacious lakeside cabin in the North Woods of Wisconsin for a week’s vacation, but their peaceful break is immediately crashed by his flashier brother in law Roman Craig and his family. A prickly week in the woods ensues.

This is another atmospheric comedy. The plot is so scant until the third act requires some drama and resolution that I can’t even call it episodic. There are no episodes, there are sequences. There’s a horror story sequence. There’s a water skiing sequence. A fishing sequence. A steak dinner sequence. They aren’t plotted so much as they just happen. In that respect, it captured vacationing pretty well. Like Meatballs, I spent most of the movie thinking less about the plot and more daydreaming about having such a vacation myself. Which was fun.

While the main plot is barely there, the subplot with Chet’s oldest son Buck dating local girl Cammie is so tightly plotted that it almost seems like the A-story, and ties with the raccoon sequences for entertainment value. However, there’s a few gaps in the realism, as is necessary to tell a love story with two people who may only know each other for five days out of their entire lives. Much could be said about that, but I’m sure I’ve already said it a few dozen times in the history of Yesterday’s Movies. Still, it was written by John Hughes, and teens having emotions are his big strength.

The gags throughout were fun. I laughed a lot, and I think I was generally more responsive than usual. They were fairly silly, and I usually saw them coming a mile away, but the acting sold it well. There’s also a lot of great nature scenery, and I like cabins. This might have been served by changing to a three-week or monthlong vacation and having some kind of contest going on at the resort, which would have been pretty formulaic, but at least would have given the movie some direction rather than just using the weather to ignite tempers enough to trigger the endgame. However, for what it is, it evokes a pretty nice vacation that makes you jealous but also glad the disasters aren’t happening to you.

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