Before going to Six Flags over Georgia to visit the set of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s Vacation with a couple other online journalists, I had only been to the amusement park once in my life. I was about 7, somehow got on a roller coaster I was clearly not tall enough to ride, and banged my face into the safety bar. Since then, I’ve never had much desire to return to Six Flags, but now I was going back and going to another roller coaster.
But this time I didn’t have to ride, and even if I wanted to, I would have to get in line. Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms), his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and their two kids are at Walley World trying to board the “Velociraptor” (the Ninja ride in real life) and finding it difficult as they once again encounter a smarmy dad (Ron Livingston) who’s also on vacation with his family. Rusty, like his father before him, has reached the end of his rope and is bringing some violence to Walley World.
The scene plays out the same way with a few variations. The Griswolds are ready to board the Velociraptor, but they have the misfortune of getting cut by Livington’s family, who have a fast-pass card that lets them skip the line. Rusty punches Livingston’s character in the face, and a fight begins.
Helms and Livingston have a little room to ad-lib and try the scene a few different ways. In some takes, Rusty tells his family, “Don’t forget to scream your faces off!” when they’re about to get on the roller coaster. Sometimes when the smarmy dad cuts the line and Rusty protests, the guy responds, “Why don’t you and your family just fuck off.”
When it comes time to brawl with Livingstone’s character, Rusty says, “I’m sorry” to his family before throwing the first punch, and then the smarmy dad replies, “You’re a dead man.” No matter the details or the editing, it looks like there will be a brawl at Walley World.
Here are 28 more things I learned on my visit to the set of Vacation:
- Fans of the original Vacation should take heart because there will be a lot of homages.
- Audrey Griswold (played by Leslie Mann) has grown up to become a rich, bible-thumper.
- The dynamic between Rusty’s kids has been flipped so that that the little brother torments the older sibling instead of vice-versa.
- There will be multiple stops along the way including Debbie Griswold’s (Christina Applegate) sorority and a whitewater rafting at the Grand Canyon.
- The rafting scene was shot at 3 different locations.
- During today’s fight scene between Rusty and the smarmy dad, Daley is making his cameo as a Walley World line attendee. Goldstein has a cameo at a different point in the movie.
- They’re shooting for four days at Six Flags and this is day 2 of 4.
Rusty isn’t a retread of Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and Helms took the role in part because an adult Rusty is a character that hasn’t existed before. He also signed on because the movie “felt irreverent but a little bit poignant and had some family love underneath it.”
- Even though Rusty isn’t like Clark, there is the “Griswold DNA”, which manifests in “Rusty just wants the best for his family, and he’s prone to denial and sometimes a little too much enthusiasm.”
- Helms says that although Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo aren’t in the movie very much, when they arrived on set “it was like the king and queen arriving.
- Chevy Chase watched some of the scenes they had already shot, and Helms says, “he was really laughing, and that just felt awesome.” He added that Chase and D’Angelo’s approval helped validate the movie even more.
- Debbie and Rusty have a deep love for each other, but they’re currently on different pages in their relationship, and Debbie is slightly more aware of it than Rusty.
- Helms was thrilled that they were able to get an “R” rating because it means they’re free “to get dark or get weird or gross or whatever.”
- Applegate says Debbie “is a bit tougher than most movie moms.”
- Debbie’s approach to the family’s travails is that she “packs a lot of it in, packs it all down until she can’t pack it anymore,” so she’ll eventually lose it at some point in the movie.
- Applegate doesn’t really like improv all that much and prefers to stick to the script; however, Helms had a lot of room to do alternate takes since this is more of Rusty’s journey.
- Debbie and Ellen Griswold have a good relationship, but Debbie is a bit intimidated by Clark.
Instead of a critique of middle-class entitlement like the first movie, the remake is more about selective memory when it comes to our childhoods.
- Like his father, Rusty has Clark’s “relentless optimism” and he sees the trip as a chance to bring the family closer together. He’s also a more wholesome character than Clark.
- When Daley and Goldstein came on to the project to write the script, they didn’t know they would also be directing.
- They hit pause on the project for a year while the studio figured out if they wanted a PG-13 or R-rated comedy.
- Daley and Goldstein worked hard to make sure that the Clark and Ellen they wrote were in line with the characters from the previous films.
- There will be a joke referring to the fact that different actors have played Rusty and Audrey over the course of the franchise.
Goldstein believes that after this movie, Chris Hemsworth will start getting comedy offers.
- The directors like to use a lot of alternate takes because it gives them more options in the editing room.
- “Holiday Road” will be involved somehow.
- They were able to get Ron Livingston into the film since he was already shooting The 5th Wave in Atlanta.
- Goldstein says they describe the movie “like Planes, Trains, & Automobiles a little bit in tone, or Lost in America not quite, but that’s what we’re trying for.” He also says it’s mostly a sequel to the first movie rather than the rest of the franchise.
Here’s my confession: I don’t like the original Vacation. I think it’s mean-spirited while rarely being funny. While its jokes may have been risqué at the time, it hasn’t aged well despite its pedigree. So I’m not protective of this franchise, which is why I welcome the remake with open arms, especially after what I saw on set. Everyone seems to have a good handle on what they’re doing and know that they’re out to create a distinct movie rather than be slavishly faithful to the original. Vacation looks like it will be trip worth taking.