National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: Happy Holiday’s Everybody
Posted on December 22, 2014
Regular readers might have noticed that it’s been a bit quiet over here lately. I’ve also missed out on reading many of my fellow bloggers’ latest posts. The truth is, over the last few weeks a family emergency has taken me away from the blog. I’m going to be taking a short break for the holidays now, but I will resume normal business on Monday 5 January 2015.
I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas break and I look forward to catching up with your posts and comments very soon. In the meantime, here are a few words on my favourite Christmas film, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) which first appeared on Drew’s Movie Reviews earlier in the year:
Every year our Christmas TV guide awards National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation a lowly two stars and I always feel disappointed. This laugh packed depiction of a traditional family Christmas reminds me of everything I love about the season and, to me at least, it seems deserving of much greater recognition.
Family man Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants to hold a fun old-fashioned family Christmas but nothing seems to go right. Even his bonus cheque seems to have gone awry – something that leads Uncle Eddie to make a kind-hearted but stupid decision.
Yes there’s a crazy chase scene when the family is frightened by a rogue squirrel and there’s also a mad plot at work towards the the film’s conclusion, but what makes Christmas Vacation great is its attention to all the tiny details of family Christmases. Writer John Hughes (the same comedic mind behind Home Alone and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) knows it’s the little things that make Christmas. These little things that, more often than not, go disastrously wrong every year in households across the globe. Hughes finds the comedy in the turkey always being overcooked, the hosts and guests bickering throughout and everyone falling asleep after dinner. Remind you of Christmas yet? The truth is Christmas wouldn’t be the same without these familiar mishaps and so director Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon) presents them fondly, as moments of minor irritation with plenty of humour and warmth.
Clark overflows with enthusiasm in the face of a less than enthusiastic wife (Beverly D’Angelo) and teenage kids (Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki), brought to life with non-stop energy by Chevy Chase. His disappointment frequently spills over into frustration which provides heaps of slapstick and a hilarious tirade of insults, but he’s well meaning and we feel for him as well as laugh at his predicaments. Despite getting the impression much of the family would rather be somewhere else, support comes from Clark’s parents who identify with his desire to pull off the perfect celebration. In two of the film’s most touching moments – cine-reel footage of Clark’s childhood Christmases and a father-son heart to heart – we’re reminded that time passes and Christmases change. It taps into a part of us that misses the Christmases of years gone by and reminds us to appreciate family in the moment.
There’s another man with more than enough appreciation for Clark’s efforts and that’s Uncle Eddie. Eddie lives with his wife, two kids and Rottweiler in a trailer after losing his job many years previously. Eddie lets the dog root through the trash, choke on a bone at the dinner table and empties his chemical toilet into the sewer with explosive results. Eddie is also the orchestrator of the aforementioned ‘mad’ plot that arrives towards the end of Christmas Vacation but the crazy turn of events works precisely because Eddie is behind them. Despite his uncivilised manners Eddie stands out as the ultimate example of familial love.
In direct contrast with the Griswold’s old-fashioned Christmas are the yuppies who live next door. Todd (Nicholas Guest) and Margo (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are having a quiet Christmas, just the two of them, and they’re clearly more concerned with material possessions than family. Hughes continually makes fun of them by having Clark unwittingly trash their swanky pad at every opportunity. It’s great comedy and reinforces the central message that family Christmases – despite all of their complications – are well worth the effort.
So there you have it. For me National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the definitive Christmas movie not only for it’s comedy and lovable characters, but because it looks and feels like a real family Christmas. Apart from the squirrel. I’ll never quite understand why they were afraid of that cute little thing.
What do you think? Does National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation remind you of your own family Christmases? Let me know in the comments and, in the meantime, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite scenes. Merry Christmas!