10 Virtues of Summer – Summer Vacation Movies I Love

Things change in the summer. Students graduate. Kids go to camp. Families take vacations together. We leave our routines and embark on new adventures, visit new places, and meet new people. We have time to step back and evaluate where we are and where we want to go in our lives. Summer has the potential to work change in all of us. Our time away is often the time we grow as individuals and a time our relationships with those around us deepen. Here, in no particular order,  are 10 of my favorite vacation movies and the virtues I think they reveal.

Stand by Me (1986) Gaining perspective. On the last weekend of summer 12-year-olds Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern set out the find the dead body that is supposed to be hidden by the railroad tracks. They are about to enter middle school and, due to academic differences, probably will be separated. Each is struggling with limitations and perceptions about himself.

The Sandlot (1993) Taking chances. Scotty Smalls is the new kid in a neighborhood which seems to be primarily concerned with baseball, not one of his interests or talents. Benny Rodriguez, the leader of the group, reaches out to him and teaches him the game. Scotty takes a chance on Benny and baseball and allows himself to become part of the group.

National Lampoon’s Vacation movies Vacation (1983), European Vacation (1985 ), and Vegas Vacation (1993) Accepting reality. Poor Clark Griswold’s expectations always exceed reality. He wants his family to have the perfect vacation and when things go wrong Clark goes into denial. He minimizes and covers up problems, usually with awkwardly hilarious results. Clark’s feelings of inadequacy drive him to grasp at fantasy rather than enjoying reality. Each of the movies ends with Clark realizing that, although not perfect, his life is pretty great.

Say Anything (1989) Finding purpose. Lloyd Dobler doesn’t know what he wants to do with the rest of his life and is looking for a “dare to be great situation.” Regardless of the others’ opinions of him and his choices, Lloyd is willing to live outside the box rather than settle. He’s in a relationship with valedictorian Diane Court who has her future mapped out until unforeseen circumstances challenge her ideas about what support and success mean.

Dan in Real Life (2007) Balancing loyalties Four years after the death of his wife Dan is pouring all his energy and attention into his children. He finally meets Marie only to discover she is his brother’s girlfriend and part of the family gathering at his parents house. Dan struggles to act honorably fighting his attraction to Marie and envy of his brother. Recognizing the loyalty and affection within his family allows Dan to confront the situation honestly.

American Graffitti (1973) Discovering Self-worth. While primarily a period piece, this movie successfully captures the questioning many teens experience, especially after high school graduation. “What am I worth and how is that measured?” Characters examine post-graduation plans, cars, colleges, dating relationships, and other issues that are considered sources of security and status in this cultural era. This film really captures the how much each character thinks he or she matters and what each is willing to do to matter more.

Camp Nowhere (1994) Developing responsibility. A group of kids slated for camps designed to improve their skills or correct their problems enlist wash-out drama teacher Dennis Van Welker to help dupe their parents into thinking they are headed for the camps their parents think they need to attend. Instead they create their own camp whose only purpose is unstructured, barely supervised fun. Along the way the kids become resourceful and responsible and Dennis rediscovers his passion for teaching.

Heavy Weights (1995) Taking ownership. Overweight, unusually non-confrontational kids are sent off to fat camp where they are humiliated and bullied by camp owner Tony Perkis and his staff. They rebel against Perkis’ heavy-handed methods. Sympathetic counselor Pat Finley, who is overweight himself, encourages them to take ownership of their own health and weight loss rather than accepting fear and embarrassment as motivation.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005) Preserving friendship Lifelong friends Bridget, Carmen, Tibby, and Lena use a pair of shared blue jeans to stay connected as their summer plans separate them. Their lives are taking them in different directions but they recognize that loving, supporting friendships go deeper than proximity or similarity. Each girl is willing to become involved and even inconvenienced in order to help and support one another.

The Great Outdoors (1988) Extending grace. Chet Ripley wants a nice family get-away at the lake but his brother-in-law Roman and his family show up uninvited. Materialistic, fast-talking Roman represents everything Chet despises. Amidst the usual comic chaos Chet and Roman discover the wonders of grace and acceptance.

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