Review: Humorless and Ingratiating, Vacation Friends is a Comedic Dud

In the same way I’ll ding a horror film for not being scary, I’ll eagerly discuss the existence of comedies that rarely make me laugh. Welcome to the feature film debut from director (and “Silicon Valley” producer) Clay Tarver, Vacation Friends, which explores the the phenomenon of meeting and hanging out with people while on vacation whom you simply click with in a deep and meaningful way, while having no real intention to staying in touch after said vacation is over. In this “comedy,” we meet Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji), who go on a luxury vacation to Mexico, where Marcus plans on proposing. But when they get to their deluxe suite, they find that it’s flooded thanks to the jacuzzi in the suite above them having overflowed.

Vacation Friends
Image courtesy of Hulu

Not surprisingly, said jacuzzi belongs to Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), a party-all-the-time couple who feel terrible about the mishaps and invite Marcus and Emily to stay in their suite’s extra bedroom for the duration of their stay. With few options anywhere nearby, they agree, and eventually the couples become close and rather debaucherous, with lots of drinking, partying, sexual experimentation, and even an impromptu wedding with Ron and Kyla as the wedding party. They say goodbye at the airport, with Emily rather innocently agreeing to make contact at some point in the future.

Seven months pass and Marcus and Emily’s real wedding is fast approaching, with her successful father (Robert Wisdom) still not accepting Marcus as worthy of his daughter (he thinks Marcus is a construction worker, when in fact he owns a multi-million-dollar construction company). At the start of the wedding weekend, Ron and Kyla suddenly show up uninvited and immediately start chaos, with Ron bonding with the father-in-law over their shared military history, while Kyla’s inherent openness ingratiates her to everyone she meets. And it’s within this section of the film that Vacation Friends begins to crumble, not that the first part of the movie was setting my world on fire either. Most of the characters in this movie are meant to be smart and responsible people, but they all act like raving idiots when the script calls for it, which leaves no room for nuance or relatability. As much as I normally enjoy Cena’s brand of comedy, here he’s just a guy who does what he wants, when he wants, whether or not he can afford it. His character is a park ranger by trade, so that leads to him some interesting scenarios in the woods near the hotel, but even that devolves into a routine drug-trip sequence that we’ve seen a thousand times before.

Lil Rel Howery also has something that makes me laugh in just about everything he does (including the recent Free Guy), but here he’s the uptight, straight-laced guy with little tolerance for wild behavior, and that’s simply not fun or funny. And Marcus as a regular punching bag to members of Emily’s family isn’t exactly a laugh riot either. Something about nearly every aspect of Vacation Friends rubbed me the wrong way, beginning with the fact that I almost never laughed. The film is a comedic dud, and were it not for the built-in likability of some of the actors, I don’t think I could have made it through this bottomless, humorless pit.

The film is now streaming on Hulu.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.


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