Watching a movie made our list, 7 things to do on a rainy day at the cottage, but is also the perfect remedy for boredom, or on a chill night when you want to keep things indoors. But why not go full theme and watch a movie about the great outdoors while IN the great outdoors? (whoa meta). So, with this in mind we will be doing a series of movie reviews on cottage/camping-themed movies.
So in that spirit, movies don’t get much more cottage-y than 1988’s The Great Outdoors, starring Dan Aykroyd and the late-great John Candy. Both Canadian actors, probably had their fair share of cottage excursion and it shows: bats, barbecues, fishing, storms, boats and arguments about “how to get the fire going”. John Candy plays Chet Ripley, an average Joe, who travels with his family to… the great outdoors. Chet books a cabin, in the area his father used to, in order to relive the past and, hopefully, forge those same types of connections with his own family. However, his plans for reconnecting back to nature and his family, on his own terms, are thwarted by an uninvited guests. No not racoons, or bears, although they make an appearance. But his cousin, the overbearing (see that) Roman Craig, played by Dan Aykroyd along with his family. They move into the “Loon’s Nest” with Chet’s family and things get well, looney.
Factoid: The Great Outdoors was originally titled “Big Country” which reminds me of the band, Big Country and their self titled hit “Big Country” that appears on Cottage Country Mix Vol. 20
For Candy and his fans this is familiar territory. John Hughes wrote the screen play (but did not direct). Candy plays the father figure (like Uncle Buck), who humorously stubbles his way through various comical situations, all the while trying to do right and keep his family united. In fact, John Candy starred in another movie Summer Rental (1985), which is in many ways the same film: “The Great Outdoors” at the beach if you will. Similarly, in Summer Rental, Candy plays a loveable father whose vacation is threatened. He stupidly but lovingly (and through the strength and assistance of his family) learns to persevere (with us laughing all the way). Likewise, Aykroyd plays the fast talking, know-it-all, which is also very familiar territory for him. But Candy and Aykroyd’s comedy style is timeless and enduring and both show good chemistry, having worked together for years.
The movie also has a well supported cast with Annette Bening making her filmic debut as Kate Craig, wife of Roman Craig (Aykroyd). The filming took place at Bass Lake, California instead of Wisconsin where the story is supposed to take place. And much of the cottage interior (not to break the illusion) was filmed in Universal Studio Lot.
The pacing is pretty typical of comedies of its time with some memorable scenes, some laughs and little mellow drama that nobody necessarily asked for (re: teenage “summer love” subplot). However, “The Great Outdoors” remains one of the greatest outdoor/cottage movies ever. Its kid and parent friendly alike but with enough innuendo to have broad appeal. If its fault is that it is conventional, then its conventional like chocolate, marshmallow and gram cracker is conventional. And like a s’more, it is thoroughly enjoyable, maybe just every once in a while. Every couple of years just to remind yourself if it as sweet as you remember it.
Length: 1h 31m
Best time to watch: afternoon, early evening