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Review: The Great Outdoors (1988)

The Great Outdoors (1988)

Directed by: Howard Deutch

Premise: An Illinois man (John Candy) vacations with his family at a cabin in Wisconsin but is surprised when his obnoxious in-laws show up unexpectedly. 

What Works: The Great Outdoors was one of a series of pictures written by John Hughes and starring John Candy. Although the film was directed by Howard Deutch and stars a lead cast much older than most of Hughes’ other films, The Great Outdoors nevertheless has many of Hughes’ trademarks: snappy dialogue, social class tensions, characters from suburban neighborhoods, emasculated leading characters, and themes of emerging maturity. The Great Outdoors has a lot going for it and has mostly aged well, even if there is a naivety about it (something also characteristic of John Hughes’ work). John Candy and Dan Aykroyd do a great job as rivals, one the sentimental but earnest middle class father and the other the fast-talking yuppie. There is a lot of tension between them that is played effectively within scenes and the conflict between the two builds nicely throughout the picture with Candy’s character suffering comic indignities at the hands of Aykroyd’s character. Like National Lampoon’s Vacation or Little Miss Sunshine, The Great Outdoors takes on the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of the family vacation and effectively mines it for laughs because viewers can recognize the reality behind the gags. The film also authentically captures the flavor of a Midwestern resort town, filling the background of the film with credible characters, locals, and scenarios, and while it has fun with them The Great Outdoors does not ridicule the Midwest like other Hollywood films of its type.

What Doesn’t: The Great Outdoors has the start of a romance between the elder son of John Candy’s character (ChrisYoung) and a local girl (Lucy Deakins). There is some sweetness to it but the relationship never really goes anywhere, which is disappointing. There is also some animal humor with raccoons that seems out of place. The flaws are never enough to spoil the film although they do stick out.

DVD extras: Production notes, trailer.

Bottom Line: The Great Outdoors is a fun family comedy. The laughs are fairly constant, the characters are well developed, and the story has just enough dramatic weight to carry audience interest through the end of the picture.

Episode: #296 (July 11, 2010)