National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983, Harold Ramis)
The Griswolds’ first adventure is still the best in this crass satire from Harold Ramis. Chevy Chase is at his pinnacle as Clark, a family man trying to give his wife and kids the vacation of a lifetime, only to be thwarted by thieves, an evil dog, a dead aunt and a park maintenance crew (“Park’s closed; the moose out front should have told you”). John Hughes’ script laces a plot that could have been family pablum with jokes that still have a surprising edge (the fate of Aunt Edna remains a dark place for a comedy). Road trip movies are, by nature, episodic, but nearly every stop has something funny, from the white trash paradise of Cousin Eddie’s house (lorded over by a sleazy Randy Quaid) to a fateful skinny-dipping encounter with Christie Brinkley. The film is over-the-top, silly and tasteless but never grotesque (unlike its recent remake) because Chase and Beverly D’Angelo (as Clark’s long-suffering wife) bring chemistry and heart to their relationship. It’s not a cartoon, but rather the nightmare of every dad who wants to give their family a memorable time. I’ve been in the same car, smelling the same smells and flipping out just like Clark before. The laughing dulls the pain of recognition.