Widescreen: Five funny vacations you can take (on screen) with John Hughes
Writer/director John Hughes was born in Michigan and died in New York, but his time at Glenbrook North High School inspired a career that left an indelible mark on American comedy -- and put Chicago and its suburbs in the Hollywood spotlight.
The coming-of-age comedies he directed in the mid-1980s were set in the fictional North Shore town of Shermer, an on-screen amalgamation of Northbrook (the mall in "Weird Science"), Skokie (Niles North High School in "Sixteen Candles"), Des Plaines (exteriors of Maine North High in "The Breakfast Club") and a dozen other towns in that area. You can see more of them with screengrabs from the movies at itsfilmedthere.com.
The most common thread among Hughes' films aside from teen angst was, strangely, vacation. (Heck, the word is even in the titles of three movies he wrote.) There are also movies that are vacation-adjacent: John Candy babysits while mom and dad go to an out-of-town funeral in "Uncle Buck," Candy and Steve Martin take the road trip from hell in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," and Matthew Broderick and his pals skip school for a Chicago staycation day in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
Many of us won't be taking vacations this year, but I suspect a lot of moms and dads will be sharing their favorite movies with the kids. Here are some funny trips we can take this summer without leaving the couch, all written by Hughes:
"National Lampoon's Vacation" (1983, R)
Hughes' short story "Vacation '58" was published by National Lampoon magazine in 1979 and told a tale of a Disneyland trip gone wrong. Four years later, Harold Ramis would direct the souped-up movie version and change the destination to the more copyright-friendly Wally World. Chevy Chase's good-hearted, hapless Clark Griswold became a comedy icon.
"National Lampoon's European Vacation" (1985, PG-13)
Director Amy Heckerling ("Fast Times at Ridgemont High") takes the Griswolds overseas in a surprisingly raunchy entry that somehow managed a more family-friendly rating from the MPAA than its predecessor. Eric Idle has a very funny (and gory) cameo as a bicyclist, but the funniest scene is the most relatable -- bored on a long train trip, the Griswolds drive each other crazy without saying a single word.
"The Great Outdoors" (1988, PG)
A few years removed from Carl Reiner's "Summer Rental," John Candy plays a put-upon traveler once again in this Howard Deutch comedy set at a Wisconsin lake resort. Who better to play a rich, arrogant foil for Candy than Dan Aykroyd, paired here with Annette Bening in her first screen appearance. See if you finish The Old 96'er while watching this movie!
"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (1989, PG-13)
The third time's the charm as the extended Griswold family comes to, uh, "Chicago" -- we'll overlook those decidedly rocky mountains in the background of half the scenes. Comedy sequels usually aren't funny. Comedy threequels? Never. But "Christmas Vacation" delivers. It may be summer now, but as the unrefined Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) says, this movie is "the gift that keeps on givin' the whole year."
"Home Alone" (1990, PG)
Continuing the out-of-season theme, "Home Alone" makes this list on a technicality -- yes, young Kevin McAllister (Macaulay Culkin) is in his Winnetka home, but the rest of his family is vacationing in France. This kids' movie remains a holiday fixture for all ages, a testament to the power of slapstick comedy and a John Williams score.
• Sean Stangland is an assistant news editor at the Daily Herald who has seen "Ferris Bueller" approximately 750 times.