Vacation Friends Review: Hilarious From Beginning to End

Vacation Friends is, at its core, a buddy comedy with two couples as the leads, and the chemistry [...]

Vacation Friends is, at its core, a buddy comedy with two couples as the leads, and the chemistry between them is brilliant, which sells even the most over-the-top sequences because you're already invested. Vacation Friends is everything you expect and yet, unlike anything you are expecting all at the same time, its moment-to-moment skewering of your expectations is part of why the blend of surreal and physical comedy works so well. Throw in some family comedy and a bit of slapstick and you've got a comedy that consistently delivers laughs from beginning to end, and easily ranks as one of my favorite comedies of the year.

The film follows Emily (Yvonne Orji) and Marcus (Lil Rel Howery), a couple looking to enjoy some time away on vacation, though Marcus also wants to use this time to propose to Emily. Pretty much nothing goes right from the time they get to the resort, though, and that's where they meet Kyla (Meredith Hagner) and Ron (John Cena). From there, the pace picks up and Marcus and Emily go on a wild ride that pushes them out of their comfort zone in numerous ways, but every time you think the film is going one direction, it swerves just before taking the full turn.

Director Clay Tarver toys with the audience at several different points throughout the film, suggesting that things are about to take a very dark turn in the story, and, each and every time, the film hooks you before delivering a big "sike!" The constant waiting for the other shoe to drop helps keep you invested in the group's ongoing story, and it allows the more lighthearted moments and physical comedy to land with more impact.

Speaking of physical comedy, there's quite a bit of it here, including several stellar scenes involving Howery and Cena. There's an art to physical comedy, and both stars simply knock it out of the park, including one sequence that has Howery choking Cena where Cena falls to the floor like a stack of lumber, and it all comes together brilliantly.

Even when you know what's coming, like in one particular sequence involving a boat, Tarver finds a unique perspective and approach that still allows it to land with the necessary punch. I rewatched that scene three times, and each time it somehow got even funnier, despite seeing what was going to happen from a mile away. Another one of these happens with a pistol earlier in the film, and, again, the sequence still sings despite knowing the outcome.

Much of that is a credit to the chemistry of the movie's cast. Howery and Orji complement each other well, and it's Emily that pulls Marcus through this wild adventure even more than Ron and Kyla. When Ron and Kyla are in the picture, though, they are simply delightful, and Hagner and Cena's performances allow two characters who should be viewed as obnoxious in many ways to instead be viewed as endearing, charming, and genuine. Sure, they make some questionable decisions, but, not going to lie, despite understanding Marcus and Yvonne's frustration with them, I was rooting for Kyla and Ron all the way by the film's end.

The movie's other running threads, like Henry (Robert Wisdom) disliking Marcus, Marcus' ongoing feud with Emily's brother Gabe (King Bach), and Marcus' co-workers not being invited to the wedding, all add something unique and fun to the mix and set up memorable scenes like the fox-hunting sequence that results in some of the most quotable lines in the film.

Vacation Friends isn't perfect, mind you, as certain spots feel a bit prolonged for the sake of it, and a trim here and there wouldn't have hurt the overall movie in any way. Gabe was a delight in the few scenes he's in, but more screen time would've been welcome, and not every joke lands, either.

That said, there are far more hits than misses, and I was laughing all the way through to the end. Vacation Friends is what you expect from an ensemble comedy, but the film wears its heart on its sleeve, spinning even the most surreal and over-the-top sequences into something heartfelt and sincere by the end. I simply can't wait to watch this again, and think you'll enjoy the ride just as much as I did.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Vacation Friends is available to stream on Hulu now.