WARNING – This will contain spoilers
The Great Outdoors is a 1988 comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and John Candy. It is about John Candy taking his family on a lakeside holiday to share the experiences he had with his dad with his own children hoping they will one day do the same with their kids. Unfortunately his brother-in-law brings his family along (uninvited) and seems determined to spoil the whole thing for him with his rich and high speed lifestyle. All is not what it seems with Dan Aykroyd’s character however.
The Great Outdoors is one of those films that when it was released was ripped apart by the critics and yet most people I speak to about it have fond memories of it with a handful of scenes that stand out above the rest. It just goes to show that what it boils down to is that critics are just people with an opinion like anyone who watches a movie. It doesn’t matter what they think; if you like a movie then that’s your prerogative and I love this movie.
This is a light hearted romp for the most part. Until the fourth act it doesn’t really take anything seriously but of course having seen it once before you start seeing how Dan Aykroyd’s Roman, who plays being rich but is secretly broke, is struggling to make money throughout and how he is avoiding spending what little he has left. An example of this is the quick scene where Roman tells Candy’s Chet to take care of the bill at the bar while he goes to the toilet. First time through you think he is a bit of a jerk since he has all that money but the second time around you know his secret and as such you start to feel sorry for him.
This film has some great scenes in it. The scene where Chet is telling the story of the bald headed bear and then throws his drink in the fire sending a fire ball up the chimney remains comedy gold for me. We all love late night ghost stories and when someone embellishes it with a surprise shock at the end it just adds to the fun. Unfortunately everybody reacts negatively to the story and I don’t understand that. If anyone should have thought it was funny it would be Roman since it seems like the sort of thing he would do but I guess the writers wanted to keep the character conflict going throughout. Roman does build on the laugh however with his effort to reassure his daughters which leads to him telling them an even scarier story about a family murdered by escaped psychiatric patients. This story ultimately keeps them up all night.
Another scene most people remember from this movie is Chet’s “Man vs Food” scene where he has to eat a 96oz steak for the family to eat for free. It is hilarious to watch but the jokes are all at John Candy’s expense given his size. The look on his face when he realizes he has to eat the fat as well is just timeless. Also of note is the bat scene where Chet and Roman have to try and capture a bat that has got in the cabin. This is funny for most people who see it and have had similar experiences. That more or less sums up the kind of laughs in this movie in that most of it is relatable and I bet everyone who has seen this will say or think at some point “Hahaha something similar happened to me too.”
The light heartedness of the movie is brought down a steep tone when Roman reveals the truth that he is bankrupt. I will admit that for much of the movie I disliked him to such an extent that I was glad he turned out to be broke especially since it implies he is to blame. That being said though I don’t hate Roman. There is a likeability about him and so there is some sympathy there. Roman’s character was designed to reflect the 1980s Wall Street lifestyle in all its highs and lows. This was not the only film to portray such a character even if the movie wasn’t about Wall Street. It seemed a popular theme among movie makers of the era. The climax of the film with the rescuing of the girls from the mine and the reappearance of the bald headed bear is just hilarious and it’s thanks largely to John Candy’s performance.
So, I have talked about what I liked about the movie. Now in the interests of fairness I should highlight what I think is wrong with it. The story of Buck and Cammy’s love interest has never endeared me. I think the writers were trying to appeal to a broad audience hoping teenagers would go on dates to watch this on the premise it had romantic comedy elements in it. It didn’t work and was boring with the real laughs being with the two families.
Here’s the biggest criticism I have with it though. This is portrayed as a family movie yet there is swearing and sexual references in it. It doesn’t know if it wants to be a family movie or one for grown up couples (or teenaged couples for that matter) and so it seems a bit disjointed in terms of genre. I first saw this on TV years ago and a lot of the stronger stuff was edited out. I actually think that was the best version because it was a film everyone could watch. Having it on DVD recently I saw the unedited version and honestly I was surprised by how much the S- and B- words were in it. I am no prude or nothing and use bad language but I don’t want my daughter to hear it.
That being said this still ranks as being a movie I have fond memories of. Sure it isn’t the funniest movie of the 80s or even either John Candy or Dan Aykroyd’s best movies but it is a film I relate to and still thoroughly enjoy to this day.
Thanks for reading…