National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

This is part of BWM’s 2015 Christmas Month, where we take a look at some of the best and worst the holiday has to offer.

If there is one Christmas tradition that is always followed in my family’s household besides our yearly game of cricket, it is that we will watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, one of the many John Hughes films that is regarded as a beloved classic for all the right reasons.

From the get go we pretty much know what we will expect. The third film in the Vacation series after the original and the European sequel, this 1989 film picks up in the weeks leading up to Christmas and we see how the Griswold family, under watchful eye of father Clark (Chevy Chase) handle the holiday.

While the previous two films in the series have a story written around the many gags featured in them, this film feels oddly different for its approach to the plot. While the theme of the film is loosely about Christmas and how we all approach it, the scenes that take us through this story are rather loosely connected and instead feel like a bunch of sketches loosely wrapped together with the same cast.

That’s not to say there is no plot to this film. As the Griswold family congregates to celebrate Christmas, Clark is busy trying to hunt down his yearly bonus, which he has already spent in order to lay down the deposit for a Griswold family swimming pool. This naturally leads to a rather hilarious climax where Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) kidnaps Clark’s boss (Brian Doyle-Murray) and holds him hostage once it is revealed Clark’s bonus was only a year’s free membership to the Jelly of the Month club, which to be fair is the gift that keeps on giving.

But what makes this movie forgiveable for the rather scatter-gun approach to its plot is the hilarity and little things that this movie builds upon. This movie is one of the funniest I have ever seen, it is by far the most hilarious Vacation movie but this movie truly succeeds by making it so damn relateable to almost everyone. There is a reason this film is a Christmas classic and it is because almost everyone can watch it and find some level of comfort in it.

We all have had Christmas occasions much like the Griswolds, where seemingly everything will go wrong, or we all know that one person who will stop at nothing to try and give their family the perfect Christmas, be it via decorating the tree or setting up lights or even going sledding. I myself have fallen victim to this has I have both seen and been that person and this film builds that layer of positivity about Christmas that one desperately needs.

While many of the best Christmas movies and specials are about the sadder sides of Christmas, such as being alone (Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas) or the over-commercialisation of the holiday (A Charlie Brown Christmas), Christmas Vacation stands out for being a shining beacon of positivity, despite the fact that almost everything in this film goes horribly wrong and is played entirely for laughs. It really goes to show the talent John Hughes had as a screenwriter as he is perfectly able to balance the more emotional side of the holiday with the more positive side all while keeping things moving.

Christmas Vacation is not a perfect film. There are many flaws with it that stops it from being a movie worth brining up when talking great comedy films. The seemingly random approach to its plot and the rather forced scenes with the Chesters (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest) make the film stutter but also provide some hearty laughs.

But at the same time, the movie does not need to be perfect. Christmas Vacation is a perfect Christmas movie and the positives massively outweigh the negatives in this case. Christmas Vacation is a must watch movie, especially around Christmas and it is very easy to see why the film has become a tradition at so many households around the world this time of year.

As A Standard Film: B+

As A Christmas Film: A+

Grade: A

Random Notes:

  • I always love to bring this up with whoever is watching but the kid who played Rusty in this film was none other than Johnny Galecki, who is known nowadays for his small role as Leonard on The Big Bang Theory.
  • The most shining parts of this film in my eyes are whenever Chevy Chase loses it and his ranting monologues are at his best here.
  • Randy Quaid stole the scenes he was in back in the first Vacation film and he does it here too, especially with the classic “Shitter was full”
  • The Christmas Lights scene where Clark tries to turn the lights on may be one of my favourite moments in all Christmas media.
  • “You set standards that no family activity can live up to.” “When have I ever done that?” “Parties, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, holidays…” – Beverly D’Angelo does not get enough credit for being the long suffering wife of Clark.
  • “Oh, Eddie… If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am now.” – Passive Aggressive Clark might just be Best Clark.
  • Just as a little aside, when preparing to write this interview, I learnt that Channel 9 decided to show this film on TV tonight, hence why the review is going up a little later. It also shows just how much of a tradition this is that I was talking about the movie with several friends on Facebook who were all watching the film at their own households. This movie is a goddamn treasure.
  • I could sit here and shoot off quotes all day, but I am going to end the review here. From all of us at BWM, We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and we hope you have an even better 2016.
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