“Vacation Friends” is a happy comedy set in a world where race does not matter. It is a problem
Boyfriend comedies are basically arranged marriages between stars that people want to see together. This is what makes the genre so reliable and enjoyable: Along with knowing that everything will end well, no matter how each one feels for the other at the start of the movie, it gives audiences a chance to see if the cast of the moment share an alchemy.
Adding an interracial component to the mix usually changes the tone, unless, like in “Vacation Friends,” the filmmakers ignore it altogether.
Clay Tarver’s harmless film marries the dual attractions of John Cena and Lil Rel Howery in a comedy of misinterpreted intentions and substance-fueled incidents that begins at a Mexican resort and ends at a destination wedding in a lodge and spa on the outskirts of Atlanta.
Ron de Cena and his girlfriend Kyla (Meredith Hagner) are a couple of hedonists who run into Marcus de Howery and his girlfriend Emily (Yvonne Orji from “Insecure”) while on vacation when Marcus intends to ask the question . Marcus meticulously plans every moment of his life, making his and Emily’s crush on Ron and Kyla, who care about the devil, both a blessing and a curse.
Ron is a gigantic jerk who neither reads body language well or ignores it altogether, overwhelming the smaller and softer Marcus with his gigantic personality and limitless acts of kindness.
This is how he and Kyla sneak into Marcus and Emily’s vacation, forcing them to throw away all plans until the end and tear their week into a drug and alcohol frenzy. At the end of their trip, Ron and Kyla think they’ve made new friends forever, which Marcus and Emily don’t deny. This is how temporary vacation relationships work. Except in buddy comedies.
Half of the Mexican Vacation from “Vacation Friends” runs on a setting used in a number of movies placing the pals in question and their devoted partner (in Emily’s case) or their willing sidekick (who portrays Kyla) in locations unknown and, therefore, on a more or less level playing field. If you’ve seen classics like “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” from 1987 or “What About Bob? From 1991? you have an idea of how this plays out.
Cena makes Ron a lovable Labrador with inexplicably deep pockets, the kind of confident guy who talks to Marcus and Emily in precarious situations and makes Marcus feel comfortable enough to let go. Marcus is heading for a few disasters but everything is going well, largely because nothing matters. They are all Americans in a Mexican tourist town whose locals take care of their heckling.
It’s when the movie picks up seven months later at Marcus and Emily’s wedding – that Ron and Kyla crash, figurative and indeed – where the social dynamic becomes special. This is, if you think of them, what is contradictory to the point of a buddy comedy.
But why not us? After all, one of the reasons interracial comedies are a standard is that they create a fantasy of friendship between a white male protagonist and a black male protagonist, not to mention a white man from Oregon and ‘a black man who lives in Georgia than in the real world would be highly unlikely. The women in these films are secondary characters, which is a shame. Orji is a wonderful comedic actor whose talent is criminally underused here, while Hagner’s bubbly slapstick, reminiscent of Goldie Hawn in his prime, is overshadowed by Cena.
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Vacation Friends writers (Tom Mullen, Tim Mullen, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley and Tarver) raise the bar by making Ron and Kyla the minorities at an Atlanta wedding where the bride’s family is clearly richer and more bourgeois than the groom’s – and Emily’s father, Harold (Robert Wisdom), won’t let him forget.
Harold exhibits a tendency towards WASP assimilationism that even his youngest parents cannot stand, including insisting that everyone go on a formal fox hunt and then criticizing Marcus for not having the right one. number of buttons on his jacket.
Ron, meanwhile, comes across as a true hunter in camouflage and drab gear. No one said a word, in large part because he had already cut himself off with Harold by revealing that he served in the military.
After that (and before, in fact), nothing that Ron or Kyla says or does strange or tasteless is attributed to their whiteness, not even jokingly. If their actions make them the center of attention, which happens frequently, everyone joins in. Then again, the reason everyone loves them is because no matter how loud or downgraded their behavior is, they are respectful and gentle to the elders in the family. Most never witness the times Ron pushes his limits with Marcus, which all of the clowns do to the straight man of the pair in those movies.
The race never comes. Not once. Whether that’s a point of celebration or criticism depends on what a person expects from a movie like this.
“Vacation Friends” has been in development since 2014 and was originally scheduled to star Chris Pratt and Anna Faris in roles played by Cena and Hagner. This alone explains why Cena and Howery’s team seem energetically unbalanced.
Less believable is the portrayal of black people going on a fox hunt, with dogs, in the woods, in Georgia, like, you know, something that happens at black weddings. (That’s not to say that there isn’t a black family with such traditions, but let’s just say it’s the first time I’ve seen it in a movie.)
Consider a few other factors as well. “Vacation Friends” represents the friendship subgenre of the interracial buddies comedy formula as opposed to the cop version immortalized in the likes of “Cop Out”, the series “Lethal Weapon”, “48 Hours”, “Beverly Hills Cop “or” Running Scared “, to name a few.
In that sense, it depends more on whether audiences perceive on-screen friendship to be more comfortably in a good mood, especially in these times. Next to the crackling chemistry that Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor shared on screen, Cena and Howery are bland like saltines. Then again, many of the gags Wilder and Pryor pulled in their movies wouldn’t steal today. Hell, some of the racial humor in Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart’s comedy “Get Hard” has aged badly, and that movie was released in 2015.
However, here we are in 2021 with a perfectly usable comedy about blacks and whites blending seamlessly together without any issues, written by white men for a predominantly black cast.
It’s natural to take comfort in the simple humor of “Vacation Friends” without thinking about all that its subtext implies, the positive and the questionable.
The affection that fuels the friendship Ron assumes Marcus shares comes from a touching place that, again, has nothing to do with race. Indeed, revealing this detail underscores the idea that Ron sees only Marcus’ fine spirit and solid character. It is adorable.
But that doesn’t fit the current social atmosphere, and he doesn’t trust Cena and Howery’s abilities to speak honestly and with humor about their very obvious differences in education, class and yes, race, and how these traits impact how the world sees and treats each of them. These actors are audience favorites, as evidenced by the number of summer movies they’ve appeared in lately. They could do that. It’s a shame that nothing in the script gives them a chance to do this.
Instead, “Vacation Friends” keeps in place the idyll of a comfortable fantasy based on the thought that if no one recognizes the very real biases Ron and Marcus would have to overcome to forge a true friendship, if only for a moment, then no one else does either.
No movie is supposed to solve all of these problems, and certainly not a silly, fun comedy from the August comedy release. The simple pleasure of buddy comedies is how they let us forget about our problems for about two hours and just laugh at, say, Ron de Cena and Marcus de Howery tripping balls in a field while a crisp Beastie Boys track bounces back into the Context.
But as I mentioned, “Vacation Friends” joins a long list of such comedies that promote the fantasy that racial conflict between whites and blacks is a matter of perception, not reality.
From that perspective, to be honest about the realities of the world these characters claim to travel and live in would be depressing. So instead of bringing some frankness and humor into this mix and trusting talented and capable comedic actors to handle such societal obstacles with grace and lightness, they don’t tackle them at all.
Instead, what we get is a movie with a predominantly black cast that assumes a level of raciallessness as some whites imagine – a wonderful comedy about black and white friendships for people who don’t see. no color and love the opportunity to ignore their issues and back away. of all that.
“Vacation Friends” is currently airing on Hulu.