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Vacation Friends’ director Clay Tarver on making a comedy movie about class and prejudice

We spoke to Vacation Friends director Clay Tarver about making his new comedy movie starring John Cena

Vacation friends

Have you ever been on holiday and met someone who became your best mate for the seven days you were away? Then when you get to the airport, you realised, actually, the only thing you had in common was a love of strawberry daiquiris at 11 am, and you never spoke to them again?

If you answered yes to this, you’ll love the new Disney Plus comedy movie Vacation Friends, which asks what if the mates you made on holiday followed you home. Starring Yvonne Orji and Lil Rel Howery as Emily and Marcus, an uptight couple, who let loose when they meet Ron and Kyla (John Cena and Meredith Hagner) while on holiday in Mexico. While Marcus and Emily are convinced they’ll never see their chaotic friends again after their vacation, they get the shock of their lives when the duo crash their wedding.

While it might sound like a raunchy farce, it’s actually a surprisingly sweet movie that balances its laughs with some real heart. So when we were asked if we wanted to chat with the movie’s director Clay Tarver, we jumped at the opportunity to chat about this fascinating film about class and prejudice.

The Digital Fix: On the surface, this is a film about friendship, but more than that, it’s a movie about perception and our biases. We see that Marcus and Emily look down on Ron and Kyla, they’re happy to be their friends in Mexico, but they have no interest in them once they leave. Beyond that, we see Emily’s family look down on Marcus because he’s a “blue-collar worker”. When you were writing the film, did you intend to make it a movie about bigotry?

Clay Tarver: Yeah, I mean to me, that’s what I loved about the premise that it was just so simple when you go off on vacation, you can go off and meet people, and you’re in a foreign place, so you can almost overshare. Then once you’re headed home in the sober light of day, you can think, ‘oh maybe that was a little too much, and you sort of go, maybe I’ll see them again, and this is the movie about what happens if you do.

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I think in the end I think despite all the disasters at the wedding, this is something that Marcus and Emily need to go through to let themselves go a little more, and they’re a little better off for having known Ron and Kyla, which I thought was a nice message.

Yeah, it really is a movie about how opening yourself up to new experiences can open up a whole new and even a new family.


You originally came on board the film as the writer before transitioning to being the director. Can you talk us through that?

Well, I started many, many years ago as a director and then I became a writer to direct more. But it took forever to get the chance to direct a movie, so I wrote it, and other directors came on to make it. That fell through, but then I got a call asking would I like to direct it with some smaller faces in terms of actors, and I was like, ‘yeah’.

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Even then, though, I thought it was never going to happen. Movies go through these kinds of iterations all the time, but the next thing I know, John [Cena] had signed up, and Rel had signed up, and it was happening.

I do have to ask when I was reading the production notes. It mentioned you’ve had similar ‘vacation friends’ surely you’ve never met anyone as crazy as Ron and Kyla?

Oh yeah. I was a musician for many years, so I’d be in a different town every night. So I’d meet people, and you didn’t know them at all, but you’d connect with them.

Vacation Friends director interview

Some I never saw again but some I’m friends with until this day, and some can be so crazy that you’re like ‘I’ll call you the next time’ and others you wonder ‘are you like this all the time because I could not handle it.’ Ron and Kyla mean well, which I love, but they are too much.

I mean, putting cocaine on the rim of a margarita glass instead of salt, yeah, they’re a little too much…

Haha right?

Vacation Friends will debut on August 27 exclusively on Disney Plus here in the UK.