I can remember watching 1988’s The Great Outdoors as a kid. It tells the story of Chet (John Candy), a man who wants to bring his wife Connie (Stephanie Faracy) and sons Buck (Chris Young) and Ben (Ian Giatti) up to a beloved wooded getaway to have an old-fashioned, family vacation. The problem is that the clan gets unexpected guests: obnoxious brother-in-law Roman (Dan Aykroyd), wife Kate (Annette Benning) and their creepy twin daughters. Can this film get kitschy? Yup. Does it have cliched vacation tropes? Absolutely. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying it, though. Here are some of the reasons why I love it so much.
I miss John Candy. The man rarely had to do a fat guy joke in order to be funny – he was simply so good that he didn’t need to reduce himself to that. The thing that’s nice about his role as Chet in this film stems from the fact that he’s playing a genuinely nice guy that’s trying to make the most of a week with an insufferable jackass. He’s like your friend’s sweet, funny dad that will keep your butt out of trouble but crack a joke in order to make you smile. He excels at that here. He’s so likable that you want him to win, but he doles out the smartass when it’s warranted.
John Hughes wrote it
This is another John I wish that we still had with us. Hughes wrote this film, which means that it’s relatable, poignant and snarky all at once. The man knew how to entertain us without having to pull out the sparklers and scream, “Look at me, I’m being funny!” He managed to capture the funny parts of life along with the heavier, more serious stuff. This film has both of those qualities, and frankly, it holds up, especially in today’s recession and obsession with appearing to be better off than you are. It’s stood the test of time. John, if you’re out there… thank you.
Dan Aykroyd is gold
Deep down, I always look at Dan Aykroyd and hear him talking about the Super Bass-o-matic 76. Every time. He has the perfect voice and smile to play a snakeoil salesman. And boy is Aykroyd at his peak here in that department. As Roman, he’s the yuppie with the bad hair, brutal honesty and obnoxious demeanor that we love to hate. He’s priceless. He’s that dick that you always look for at the family function because you can’t believe that someone like him actually exists. We all have at least one; at least with Roman, we don’t have to pretend to smile. We can relish in how big of a dick he is.
Jesus are Cara and Mara scary. Not that they’re menacing, and they don’t say anything creepy. In fact, that’s part of what makes them creepy: they’re quiet, and they’re apt to just sneak up on you and do nothing but stare. The fact that they’re the stereotypical red heads just adds to it even more. (Poor red heads; they really don’t have it easy.)
Chet’s bear story
Ever have that one parent that has to tell you a scary story to freak you out? Yup, that’s my dad. That’s me too. Chet’s bear story is in the same tradition of the scary campfire story. What could be better than that?
Well, Roman’s bedtime story
Way to totally scare the living shit out of your kids with a story about crazed experiment victims that cannibalized a family. Way to go there, Roman. Way to go. I’m so comforted.
Oh my god the raccoons are the best damn part of the movie. I love their running commentary. If I were an animal, I wouldn’t be just any raccoon – I’d be one of those raccoons.
In middle school, I went to the lake with a bunch of friends, and we went on his family’s two wave runners. One friend was nice and responsible, going in straight lines; the other was doing donuts, and we feared for our lives. It was a blast. That’s what this scene reminds me of – that moment of pure terror mixed in with the glee. Speaking of which, I need to get back out on the water…
The misadventures of the kids
Between kissing a stiff and bringing bears home from the bear dump, these kids have one hell of a vacation. I mean, the stories alone that they’re going to have – especially the bat – are the type that become family legend. Man are they going to have more than enough stories to torment their own children in later years.
The Old 96-er
There’s a special talent in my family: we have people that can pack away food like there’s no tomorrow. It all started with my grandfather, who would quietly eat an entire meal in no time flat. We’re not talking anything tiny, either – Grandpa could put away a huge steak without a problem. There have been times when family members have had bets placed on whether or not they could eat food. So the Old 96-er brings back some good memories, especially with the play-by-play and whimpering of John Candy’s Chet. Here’s to eating as much as you possibly can in one sitting.
The Bald Headed Killer Bear
I came home from work once after a terrible day and face-planted on the couch; when asked what was wrong, I replied, “Big bear chase me!” That’s code at home for “just leave me be,” and everyone gets it. The whole showdown with the bear is great. Given, you can see a stick waving on the behalf of the trainer, but it works. In part because the concept of a bear busting into your house – much less one that’s got a shaved head – is a pretty scary. Bertha winding up bald on both ends… that just takes the cake right there.
It’s a holiday. Go to the great outdoors and have some adventures. If you’re a consummate indoor kid like me, stay inside, blow it out your ass, and let John and Dan do all the work for you. They’re good at it.