Movies are like miniature trips, and when gearing up for a family vacation, you could do worse than to skip triple-checking your packing list and instead soak up the vibe of being on the move and teach your kids a little something about the world in transit. Too bad there aren’t many watchable films that offer those opportunities. Most of the films recommended here, suggested half-tongue-in-cheek, are outrageous “what’s the worst that could happen?” scenarios, which may help you maintain perspective on the road. These movies are not, in any case, intended as viewing entertainment during the trip itself—shut off the DVD player in the minivan and look out the window, fer Chrissake.
road in a puttering VW bus—in this case, to participate in that most revolting of American rituals, the preadolescent beauty pageant—but it’s executed with consummate wit and Swiss timing. The charm of Little Miss Sunshinemight boil down to the cast: give pros like Alan Arkin, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, and Greg Kinnear some open road, and they will race like the devil.
Well, this’ll take the cake: if your dad is Harrison Ford, and he strands you and your family on a Central American jungle coastline so you can create paradise away from the evils of society, then you’ve won the Worst Vacation Ever sweepstakes handily. In The Mosquito Coast, Ford is fascinatingly out of character as a deluded utopian, and director Peter Weir knows how to turn the screws.
Is Lost in America the worst vacation on film? Don’t throw down an extreme-scenario gauntlet if you don’t want Albert Brooks to step up and take the gold. Here, he’s a fired ad exec who leaves L.A. with wife Julie Hagerty and a head full of road movie cliches and Easy Rider memories. He doesn’t get far, and the comedy of discomfort that ensues is peerless.
National Lampoon’s Vacation is actually two movies: seen when sober, it’s an only occasionally winning Chevy Chase comedy about the worst family vacation ever; seen while under the influence of a certain organic substance we keep hearing about in the news (and from friends who certainly knew more about it in their 1980s youths than they do now), it’s a gaspingly hilarious Chevy Chase comedy, filled with dry moments between the jokes that are, for some, priceless.