Reliving the Greatness: The Great Outdoors (1988) – Retro Review

Has there ever been anyone more delightful than John Candy?

Seriously, I can not think of a role that I saw John Candy in that didn’t put a smile on my face (admittedly I never saw John’s final film, Wagons East).  

But one of my absolute favorite John Candy movies is 1988’s The Great Outdoors… 

John Candy plays Chet Ripley, a man who wants nothing more than to spend some quality family time with his wife Connie (Stephanie Faracy) and his two sons, Buck (Chris Young) and Ben (Ian Giatti) as they vacation in the great outdoors of Wisconsin. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans… 

The main disruption of Chet’s perfect vacation dreams is his brother-in-law, Roman Craig (Dan Aykroyd). Roman, his wife Kate (Annette Bening in her feature film debut), and their creepy twin daughters Cara and Mara all crash the Ripley’s party and interject themselves into the proceedings. It was at this moment I realized it is a good thing the Ripleys got the biggest cabin possible, but I digress.

Roman is the antithesis of Chet.  For example, Chet is a simple and humble individual, who is actively engaged in his family’s life. Meanwhile, Roman is an obnoxious and crass individual, who is consumed with the almighty dollar. Roman barely has a relationship with his daughters and his wife has resorted to using her washer’s spin cycle in an unconventional way. 

The differences between the two men immediately surface when Chet decides he’s going to fire up the grill and make some hot dogs, but elitist Roman hijacks the meal and announces he’s brought lobster for everyone to enjoy. Then when Chet talks about his plans of renting a pontoon boat for him and his boys to cruise the lake in comfort fish, Roman once again plays a little game of one-upmanship and pitches the idea of renting a jet boat.

But Roman Craig is not the only source of Chet Ripley’s misery, Chet has to deal with the wildlife of Wisconsin’s great outdoors… including some trash loving raccoons (complete with their own subtitles and theme music), a bat inside the cabin, blood-sucking leeches and last but not least the Bald-Headed Bear.

Chet also has some minor issues with his eldest son, Buck. Instead of male bonding with his father, Buck spends most of the movie chasing after local girl Cammie (Lucy Deakins). If I have one complaint about The Great Outdoors it is the romantic subplot between Buck and Cammie and more specifically Cammie’s line “You don’t know how local I am.” What does it even mean?!? If John Hughes were alive today, this is the one question I’d like to ask him. 

While Chet may not have gotten the vacation he envisioned, if his goal was to provide his family with a memorable summer vacation… MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

As movie fans, we get a movie that is infinitely re-watchable because of scenes like Chet’s impromptu water skiing behind Suck My Wake, the birthday party for a very old and very dead man, Chet taking the challenge of the Old 96er, Roman announcing that he’s going to introduce “Mr. Thick Dick to Mr. Urinal Cake” and what about Reg… the sad sack with the misfortune of getting struck by lightning 66 times IN THE HEAD! Or was it 67?

By the end of the film, Chet and Roman are even able to find some common ground as they are called into action and Chet is able to add to the legend of the Bald-Headed Bear.

I have watched The Great Outdoors from its “Yakety Yak” open to the “Land of Thousand Dances” close (one of the best end credits sequences in cinematic history from where I sit) countless times and I expect to watch it countless more.

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