A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 295 – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

How this movie became a Christmas staple in my family’s home, I’m not entirely sure. We must have caught it on television one year and left it on despite normally turning away from something so crude and slapstick. My mother’s favorites are things like last night’s Comfort and Joy and a version of A Child’s Christmas in Wales. We watch The Box of Delights and A Christmas Carol. Put up against all of those, this is certainly the one thing that’s not like the others. It is in your face Christmas mayhem and it revels in it.

Really, this movie is a series of mishaps that segue into disaster in the days leading up to Christmas. The plot is pretty simple: Clark Griswold wants to give his whole family the perfect family Christmas but Clark Griswold is sort of cursed to have his best intentions lead straight to hell. Clark’s a familiar face if you’ve seen the other Griswold family vacation movies. Chevy Chase plays him with mostly affable comic klutziness until he snaps when everything comes to a head. And even when he snaps he’s still somewhat affable. It’s an amazing thing, being able to portray affability in a character with a chainsaw and a manic grin.

It all starts out relatively tame, with an oversized Christmas tree and an abundance of sap. Clark gets accidentally locked in the attic. When both sets of grandparents show up his daughter and son have to share a bed. Putting lights on the house becomes a mammoth effort. And then Cousin Eddie and his family show up in their disgusting RV. Things spiral out of control while Clark tensely waits to get his Christmas bonus from work, counting on it to help pay for the pool he’s already put a down payment on. By the time Christmas arrives things are bad, but not disastrous. The disasters start with an exploding turkey, a cat chewing on tree light cords and a burning Christmas tree. Clark snaps and gives a few fantastic rants that whip through my head every so often (especially the line “Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?”) and through it all his family try their best not to make things worse. Except for Cousin Eddie. He makes things worse just by being there.

It is a thoroughly ridiculous movie. Every scene is a gag based on one more horrible thing happening at Christmas. It’s full of caricatures like Eddie and the yuppie neighbors, Todd and Margo. It is every nightmarish family Christmas rolled into one and helmed by a guy who just wants perfection, is that too much to ask? And you know from the outset that it is indeed too much to ask. His whole family knows. His son gamely goes along with some of his antics but bows out when it goes over the top. His daughter is fed up but sticks it out anyhow. And his wife, Ellen? Beverly D’Angelo plays her with the sort of long-suffering patience that speaks volumes.

And it all ends with an explosion and the family and a SWAT team dancing on the lawn, singing Christmas carols. Like I said, it’s ridiculous. It’s full of physical humor, which Chevy Chase does very well, and off-color jokes, which the rest of the cast do well. Randy Quaid, as Eddie, gets a lot of the cruder bits, but I’ve got to say nothing he says makes me laugh harder at him than does the dickie he wears under his white sweater, totally visible through the thin and clingy fabric. And I think that’s the thing about this movie. Yes, it’s outrageous and crude and over the top. But it’s also got these bizarre little details, like the pile of identical gifts given to Clark’s boss, and the faces Ellen makes when she’s squished between Clark and his mother. Somehow this became a classic for my family. We watch it every year and every year we tell each other how silly it is and every year we laugh the whole way through.

December 20, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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