California Dreaming (Out of Omaha)
Every year millions of American families intentionally participate in one of the most stressful events possible, the family vacation road trip. Have parents and kids confined to the small space of a single vehicle is an explosion waiting to happen. While there are reports of such trips working out well such happy adventures would scarcely make for a movie anyone would want to see. When you think about it even if there sufficient conflict for a comedy a flick based on such a trip fails more often than not, one reason for this is the definitive family road trip comedy has already been made, ‘National Lampoon’s Family Vacation.’ This movie was so wild, crazy and outright funny that it set the bar impossibly high for any other films in this particular sub-genre. This is the fate of the 2007 flick, ‘California Dreaming’ also known as ‘Out of Omaha’ by writer-director Linda Voorhees. All of the elements for a reasonably good family comedy are here it is just that we have seen it all before and for that matter seen it done better. The cast here is excellent, proven comic performers all. They have the chemistry to work very well together, and the script is even workable. In this case, it just has an uphill battle to get out from the shadow of greatness.
This film is based on the stereotypical family seen in innumerable movie comedies. The parents seem to have little in common. The daughter thinks her parents are idiots but only displays her lack of even the slightest glimmer of common sense. While there are some laughs to be had here overall, the flick fails to work on most levels. It appears that it is one of the scripts that come across funnier on paper. When put on the screen it loses something in the translation. The actors give it a good try, but even the most talented actors cannot rise above every obstacle. Any film based on the dynamics of family is touchy. You need enough realism to allow the family members in the audience to identify with the characters. At the same time, you have to expand the circumstances and responses to comic proportions. This film goes over the line in both respects. The family members are painted too broadly to seem real. The faults of each person are overly exaggerated but don’t come off as humorous. The situations they face are ridiculous to the point of implausibility. Some comedies can get away with it but not in this context. There also has to be some degree of internal consistency in how the characters react. This too is missing here.
The film opens with married couple Stu (Dave Foley) and Ginger Gainor (Lea Thompson) finishing a test drive of an RV. Gleefully Ginger states ‘California here we come’. At home, the audience is introduced to their children, Milo (David Kalis) who is about ten and his teenaged sister Cookie (Lindsay Seim). The first thing to note here is with names like that you know the children are going to resent their parents. Cookie has locked herself in her room unwilling to try on the new outfits mom has bought for her. While Ginger feels they are ‘pretty and age appropriate’ the girl looks at them as the grossest things imaginable. Having had a teenage daughter, I can understand her side of the conflict. By day Ginger works as a real estate agent. She is uptight and controlling in every aspect of her life.
Stu thinks he is cool and able to be a best friend to his kids; they tend to disagree. Little Milo takes phobias to a new level. He is afraid of going to California because of the sharks that lurk in the waters. Aunt Bonnie (Patricia Richardson) doubts the wisdom of the impending trip; perhaps she read through the script. Granny Gainor (Melissa Jarecke) shares Bonnie’s trepidation for the journey. Both of them tell Stu that nobody from Omaha ever goes to California since they are not beach people and burn easily. Ginger made plans for this family vacation. She wants nothing more at this point in life than to revisit the place in California where she vacationed with her family long ago. As the controlling type Ginger has planned out every moment. This is movie code for nothing that is planned will happen that way. Ginger is going to start on the vacation with some addition worries. At work, she has just been ‘dethroned’ as the best salesperson by a younger woman who she once trained. All Cookie wants is to spend the summer with her loser boyfriend, Kevin Porter (Nicholas Fackler), something that neither parent is happy about. Stu would still rather go to Branson as they do every year, but he loves his wife and realizes just how important this is to her.
Things get off to a bad start when Stu can’t set the home alarm and the police show up delaying their departure. Once on the road, they hear something in the bathroom of the RV. They think it is a small animal, but it turns out to be Kevin. Cookie thought she could hide her boyfriend in the only bathroom they have for the entire trip. They are forced to make a detour to bring Kevin back home to his parents Wayne (Ethan Phillips) and Teensie (Vicki Lewis). Once there the Porters are shocked to hear their son has a girlfriend. They are not exactly the best parents in the world; Teensie is wearing an ankle monitoring device and is on parole for selling phony designer handbags. Somehow the Gainors get roped into taking Teensie to a meeting with her parole officer. Cookie calls Aunt Bonnie to help out, and they all go to her house for breakfast further throwing off Ginger’s well planned out schedule. The movie is one delay after another as Ginger desperately tries to get back on track.
Much like the Gators the movie makes one attempt after another but can’t get on track. The humor is forced and unnatural not allowing the audience to care about the plight of the characters. Dave Foley is in his natural element playing Stu. He is an easy going guy who wants to please his family. Lea Thompson does well as the overly uptight mother, but she has little here to showcase her comic ability. The scenes with Vicki Lewis are the best in the film. She plays the sleazy Teensie to perfection, but there is little time to enjoy her.
MTI is known for little films, and they tend to take a chance with movies that cannot find a larger audience. This means some will hit others don’t. In this case, unfortunately, they missed the mark.
Posted 01/12/08 Posted 04/03/2019