...Rockin' Amy Heckerling "National Lampoon's European Vacation"
Rising to stardom with 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” today considered an ‘80s cult classic, Amy Heckerling was perfect to direct 1985’s “National Lampoon’s European Vacation.” The sequel to the hilarious megahit “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” this film had a lot riding on it. And Heckerling scores. As evidenced in “Fast Times,” she was uber-talented in tapping into zany ‘80s America. The zeitgeist of “larger-than-life.” She turned Ridgemont High into a massive unloading dock of lovable stoners, hustlers, and wannabes.
In “European Vacation,” Heckerling takes America’s favorite misfit family, the infamous Griswalds, across the pond: London, Paris, Somewhere In Germany, and Rome. Accidental winners of the American “A Pig In A Poke" TV game show, the Griswalds soon find that their Transatlantic “grand prize” vacation is cursed. Sound familiar? Flashback to the first “Vacation.” These Griswalds are no strangers to the ugly underbelly of family vacays.
But what stands out in “European Vacation” is Heckerling’s brilliant treatment of its locales. She makes each European destination “larger-than-life.” Each is a zany ‘80s icon. Example, there’s left-lane driving in London. Then good old dad Clark backs their rental car into good old Stonehenge, toppling it. Cheerio, ancient Druid calendar. And who doesn’t love a dog jumping off the Eiffel Tower, in hot pursuit of a swanky beret? Paris doesn’t disappoint. Poor Rusty, the reluctant beret-wearing teenage son of Mom and Pop Griswald.
The Griswalds then hum on over to “Somewhere In Germany” where they accidentally visit the wrong relatives, who kindly give Clark a bedpan to brush his teeth in. Blech! Then feisty Germans wearing lederhosen run the Griswalds out of town. A torrent of beer and sausage follows. The Griswalds finally deboard in Rome, their last destination, where they become unwitting accomplices in thievery. In a daze, teenage daughter Audrey witnesses her mom’s abduction. “Dad, I think Mom’s been kidnapped...” It’s The Eternal City meets American Car Chase, all ending with a big splash in an oldie fountain.
Unsurprisingly, Heckerling succeeds in building off the humor of the first “Vacation.” She shows moviegoers just how “major” a typical American family vacation can be in the “big” ‘80s decade. But she takes it one step further. Heckerling transforms Europe into an iconic ‘80s Wild West, ironically not unlike the kooky cowboy frontier of the first movie. She bounces around Europe in a pinball game of fun, knowing just which jokes Americans will laugh at, and how to elicit a blush.
That’s what makes “European Vacation” a blast. Heckerling sparkles. No surprise then, she went on to direct another ‘80s blockbuster, “Look Who’s Talking,” and ‘90s smash hit “Clueless.” Amy Heckerling had like, totally, rad comedic chops.