National Lampoon’s Pandemic Vacation

Vacation movies remind us that the holiday road usually has some potholes

I went on vacation. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to go on vacation. Dr. Birx is on TV talking about how we’ve entered a dangerous new phase of the pandemic that will kill innocent farmers, that we should all assume we have COVID-19, and that we should wear masks inside our houses. Nonetheless, I hit the road in a 2020 Nissan Armada so I could walk up some mountains in Colorado. Based off my Instagram feed, the only social media that I occasionally check these days, lots of other Americans are heading for the hills and the beaches as well.

We all need a break after five months of disease, death, social unrest, and annoying lines at the grocery store. But is it worth the trouble? When I pulled up to a gas station outside of Pueblo, Colorado, and the guy at the pump next to me pulled off his mask to sneeze, I wondered if my desire to drink beer at altitude would be my ultimate demise. But maybe it’s always been this way. A vacation means a change of setting. But peril, discomfort, and fraud have always awaited the traveller. Here’s a list of great movies about the perils of vacationing.

The Lady Eve (1941)


Once upon a time, only rich people went on vacation. In this classic Preston Sturges screwball comedy, peak Barbara Stanwyck plays a con artist who targets wealthy sap Henry Fonda for financial destruction on a cruise ship. What do you know, she falls for the poor magoo!

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)


This gentle Jacques Tati satire of the postwar French leisure class remains as charming, goofy, and relaxing as it was when he released it in 1953. Full of soothing jazz music, strolls on the beach, and collapsing boats, M. Hulot’s Holiday captures the wasteful rhythms of a summer beach getaway, while also quietly commenting that it’s all kind of dangerous and pointless.

Deliverance (1972)


Sure, it’s fun to get into a banjo duel with a mentally-challenged country boy once in a while, but if these city slickers think they’re going to have a good time on a rural Georgia river trip, they’re kidding themselves. Head out for adventure and you just might find yourself squealing like a pig. An epic 1970s cautionary tale with a great cast.

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)


No movie captures the futility of travel better than this greatest of all American road-trip comedies. Everything that can possibly go wrong on the Griswolds’ road trip from suburban Chicago to California does. And when they do finally arrive at Walley World, the gates are closed and only the hapless John Candy stands between them and the ultimate good time. I wonder what Clark Griswold would have done with the iPhone “mandatory mask” alert that I got on my phone as I crossed the border into Colorado. Or with the open indoor pool at the Hilton property we stayed at in Amarillo, during this, the ultimate time of disease. This summer, we’re all the Griswolds.

The Great Outdoors (1988)


You aren’t too sophisticated to enjoy this wacky waterskiing clip of John Candy, the king of summer-vacation bumbling. The Great Outdoors is a by-the-numbers comedy, but its eternal message, that vacations are a mostly dopey waste of time, holds true today. Candy also starred in a 1985 Carl Reiner vacation comedy called Summer Rental, basically the same movie as The Great Outdoors.

The Beach (2000)


Gen-X seeks paradise in this excellent Danny Boyle adaptation of the Alex Garland novel. Baby Leo DiCaprio plays a young man seeking the perfect unspoiled tropical getaway where he can spear fish and have sex with a French girl. But paradise is not what it seems as a pandemic, an outbreak of racial unrest, and a debate over reopening schools derail Leo’s dreams of a good time.

Force Majeure (2014)


Winter vacations carry their own sets of peril, like avalanches. In this great European dark comedy, an upper-middle-class Swedish family faces a reckoning after dad panics during a snowslide at a ski resort. The U.S. unsuccessfully remade this film as Downhill, starring Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It carries the message that Dr. Fauci has been pushing for months: Stay home. There’s nothing good out there.

That said, I had a very nice vacation. I walked up a mountain and saw an elk. The porter was very good at the brewery down the street from my aunt’s condo where I stayed. Everyone kept their distance and wore masks, except for a scary group of 20 or so morons from Missouri, who were playing dueling COVIDs. One week later, my entire family is footloose and symptom-free. Someday, we’ll all look back on this and write an unproduced screenplay about it.

A final note: Nissan allowed me to take the 2020 Nissan Armada on the trip with the stipulation that we talk about its tow capacity. It is a very large car. But I didn’t tow anything other than a crate for my dog and a lot of takeout food for hungry teenagers. Still, here are some summer adventure towing tips in case you want your Rogue to haul your dirt bike or whatever.

But don’t try to tow anything to Walley World. The last time I checked, it was still closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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