“This is no longer a vacation, it’s a quest.”
The road trip is a microcosm of family life — full of joy and singing, deep conversations and fighting, kids being annoying and parents, annoyed. It’s no wonder the backseat shenanigans and front-seat breakdowns loom so large in movies. From moments of silent reflection to the ultimate dad meltdown, these classic car moments stand out as equal parts truthful and ridiculous. They’re enough to make parents long for the upcoming summer road trip season — or send the kids off to camp.
Vacation (1983): The Meltdown
Over the course of the National Lampoon series, the meltdown of Chevy Chase’s Clark W. Griswold is a hallmark of each movie. In the original film, watching the ultimate family man descend into madness as his family turns against his vacation plans is perhaps the most relatable thing that happens in the entire movie. “This is no longer a vacation, it’s a quest,” he says to his complaining wife and two children as they drive through a dark and stormy night in their station wagon. The resulting string of expletives is the culmination of a week of family dysfunction. His unblinking delivery the face of millions of fathers on the road. Zip-a-de-doo-dah indeed.
A Christmas Story (1983): Oh fudge
There is perhaps no more universally identifiable sequence in this perennial holiday mainstay than the fateful tire-changing scene. When Ralphie’s family blows a flat, The Old Man eagerly enlists his eldest for a little roadside bonding via a race against the clock to change the wheel. But when the kid loses his grip of the bolts and his language filter, letting out a reflexive “oh fudge” that isn’t a fudge at all, the moment transforms from a father-son bonding experience to a Lifebuoy soap taste test following an awkward ride home.
Parenthood (1989): “Diarrhea”
Few films have captured paternal defeat at the hands of scatalogical humor better than Parenthood’s opening moments. Post-Little League game, the oldest of three children regales his cackling siblings with the age-old “diarrhea” song. The look of exasperation exchanged by parents Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen speaks volumes. Their lack of disciplinary measures when they find out, indeed, what happens when you’re sliding into first and you’re feeling something burst shows this is a battle that they’ve fought, and lost, before.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001): “Me and Julio”
It’s short but sweet, and involves a garbage truck rather than a car, but Royal Tenenbaum’s hitched ride on the back of a garbage truck with sheltered, tracksuit-rocking grandchildren…