Written by John Hughes
Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik
When it comes to the holiday season, I’m one of those people who don’t like to take it too seriously. It seems that when I want to achieve the “perfect” Christmas life becomes more stressful. Instead, I kick back and laugh. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation helps in that regard. After all, my holiday couldn’t possibly be as bad as the Griswold’s, could it?
Right from the opening, the movie sets the tone for the humor. It’s an animated short that serves as the opening credit of Santa reading his list.
For the most part, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation consists of little snippets in the theme of the mishaps of the Griswold family during the Christmas season. The father, Clark (portrayed by Chevy Chase) is intent on having the “perfect” holiday. He goes overboard with everything from the Christmas tree to the decorations. His wife, Ellen (portrayed by Beverly D’Angelo) says it right when she tells him he sets impossible standards. Cranky neighbors (portrayed by Nicholas Guest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus) add to the mix.
Then comes the family. Both Clark’s and Ellen’s parents are due in. A cousin they all wish they could forget, Eddie (portrayed by Randy Quaid) shows up unexpectedly in a deteriorated RV with his wife and kids in tow. Clark is also stressed out over the non-arrival of his annual holiday bonus. He plans on surprising the family with plans for putting in a pool using that.
Some of the jokes are predictable. It’s sort of a given what will happen with the Christmas lights. I could feel that sense of going “oh no…” but at the same time, it was funny. The families don’t get along, especially when so many people are crammed into a small space, and Clark and Ellen try to be diplomatic with their unexpected guests. A lot of the humor is physical, with decorations taking on a mind of their own and things turning up where they shouldn’t or doing things that they shouldn’t.
There’s also a message in the madness. Clark doesn’t appreciate what he has, even though it isn’t perfect. In the end, he seems to “get it”, at least for this film.
Although Beverly D’Angelo and Chevy Chase have been ever-present in the National Lampoon “Vacation” movies, the kids have continually changed, even their ages. It can be somewhat disconcerting if you follow the characters from film to film.
The acting is good. Chevy Chase is terrific as usual. His comedy is usually being straight to the chaos surrounding him and he plays that part perfectly. It’s something you can see he had a knack for through the years, from his characterization of the late President Gerald Ford as a bumbler on Saturday Night Live to Clark Griswold. Clark is a cross between so many other characters we’ve seen on sitcoms through the years, from Ralph Kramden to Tim Taylor, all of who want things to be these memorable moments that people on the outside will ooh and aah over. They want to be the envy of their neighbors and have their family grateful that such a wonderful father/husband belongs to them. When their best-laid plans go awry, they have trouble dealing with it. Clark embodies all of this and is molded on so many comedians who have played similar characters before, and has been the model for others since.
Beverly D’Angelo is excellent as the patient and long-suffering wife. Her patience with her husband does wear thin at times, but she always seems to understand him. The two do share chemistry of a sort that makes them seem quite comfortable together.
I loved Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie. He is obnoxious and loud, something he is known for as well. He wears strange clothing and is not someone most of us would think about having around during the holidays. In fact, we would probably tell him we were going to Canada for the holidays just to avoid him. But Eddie means well and Quaid conveys this. At one point he acts on something Clark has said in anger, all in an attempt to please him, not realizing that when Clark calmed down he wouldn’t feel the same way.
I love watching this every year, unedited. There are just some things that need to be shown in their entirety and this is one of those films. Do yourself a favor next holiday season and buy the DVD or rent it. It will make the craziness of your own home seem much more acceptable.
• Commentary by Director Jeremiah S. Chechik, Beverly D’Angelo, Miriam Flynn, Johnny Galecki, Randy Quaid, and Matty Simmons
• Cast & Crew Biographies
• Theatrical Trailer