Vacations differ for everyone—some people want a relaxing time away from reality with pool days and spa visits, while others want to escape reality completely and let their alter egos take over for a trip filled with debauchery and bad decisions.
The new Hulu film Vacation Friends takes the latter to another level. After Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily’s (Yvonne Orji) romantic trip to Mexico is derailed by a flooded honeymoon suite, the wild couple upstairs, Ron and Kyla (John Cena and Meredith Hagner), offer to house them in their Presidential Suite and quickly coax them into shedding their buttoned-up personas. A few cocaine-rimmed margaritas and a crashed yacht later, the couples are bonded for life (or at least, for the rest of their trip). Back in the real world, Marcus and Emily think they’ll never see Ron and Kyla ever again…until they show up to their Atlanta wedding, baby bump in tow.
As these comedies generally are, Vacation Friends is over the top. Cena and Hagner get to have all of the fun as chaotic characters who think extreme pranks are the basis of any good friendship. They don’t have any real backstory to speak of, which adds to the charm of the premise: There are some people you meet and immediately question their entire existence, and Ron and Kyla are just that. We don’t know how they have exorbitant amounts of money or where they live or even what exactly they do for work, but we know that they’re here and they’re ready to have a good time.
Howery gets to play the straight man, either questioning every one of Ron and Kyla’s decisions while on vacation or trying to win over a father-in-law that dislikes him at his own wedding. When he does have fun—like taking accidental drugs or playing a high-stakes round of golf—he goes all in, and it shows the character has dimension. In those moments, Marcus has a light-hearted side and is able to let go of the reins for a bit, which adds depth and allows audiences to genuinely root for him.
I wish that goodwill was extended to Orji’s character, who is given barely anything to do. Throughout the film, Emily is more open to the shenanigans that Ron and Kyla want to get into, often convincing Marcus to let go of his plans and go with the flow for once. But we don’t see any part of her internal feelings or understand why she’d want to be with someone as uptight as Marcus. She’s one-dimensional and doesn’t even get her own B-story with Kyla, which makes the resolution of the film feel unearned. Similarly, Hagner gets limited screen time compared to her counterpart Cena, but gets to do more than Orji. While Cena is great, playing his signature sincere and crazy at the same time, it’s Hagner whose crazy eyes really sell this line that they tiptoe. She’s approachable and vulnerable but also someone you might think needs professional help.
At just over two hours, I expected the film to focus much more on the “vacation” part of Vacation Friends, but the setting shuttles back to the real world prior to the halfway point, and ends up losing some of its excitement in that decision. Part of that is the poorly drawn supporting cast, which primarily plays Emily’s family at the wedding. Of course her overbearing father disapproves of Marcus, and of course her brother hates him too. The clichés of the family dynamics make it obvious where the movie’s conflict and climax are headed, especially once Ron and Kyla reappear to shake things up. For a film that needs to bring home the idea that Marcus and Emily would suddenly change their minds about these crazy people who gate-crashed their wedding, it never fully gets there. The moments of sincerity feel forced, and Kyla and Emily feel too much like peripheral figures to suddenly have a bond strong enough to overlook everything that happened throughout the film.
It probably sounds like I hated this movie, and that’s not entirely true. It’s a fun premise and features some entertaining performances from a talented cast, but ultimately it didn’t live up to the promise of those ingredients. Vacation Friends is a perfectly enjoyable movie to fire up on a cozy Friday night, as long as you don’t expect too much out of it.
Director: Clay Tarver
Writers: Tom Mullen, Tim Mullen, Clay Tarver, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Stars: John Cena, Lil Rel Howery, Yvonne Orji, Meredith Hagner, Robert Wisdom, Lynn Whitfield, Andrew Bachelor
Release Date: August 27, 2021 (Hulu)
Radhika Menon is a pop culture-obsessed writer and filmmaker living in New York City. Her work has appeared in NY Post’s Decider, Teen Vogue, and will be featured in Brown Girl Magazine‘s first ever print anthology. She is a proud alumna of the University of Michigan and thinks she’s funny on Twitter.