A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

December 20, 2010

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

It wouldn’t be the Christmas season if we didn’t have the traditional viewing of the traditional Griswold family Christmas. This is kind of a guilty pleasure for me. It’s full of ridiculous sight gags, silly slapstick, and painful circumstances. It’s a stupid movie, but I can’t help loving it.

All Clark Griswold wants is to have the perfect family Christmas. With the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect Christmas lights, and the whole family gathered together to share in the Christmas spirit. Maybe his lofty goals are slightly beyond his reach, but damned if he isn’t going to give it his all. Naturally over the coarse of the movie everything goes catastrophically wrong for poor Clark. Nothing is quite as he imagined it would be. The tree he falls in love with can’t really fit in his living room. The lights don’t light up. The family spend more time embarrassing and shouting at each other than spreading Christmas cheer. And Clark (as he is prone to do in these Vacation movies) slowly goes insane and violently snaps at the end.

It may be hard to believe now, but there was a time when Chevy Chase was considered funny. I remember getting some laughs out of his antics in the Fletch movies, and of course his pratfalls on the old SNL still cause a chuckle. He played the charismatic leading man in Caddyshack, which always seemed odd to me. His greatest success, however, was his recurring role as Clark in the National Lampoon Vacation movies. By this one, the third in the series, the formula and the character were pretty well established, so it was just a matter of unleashing his ever-hopeful character on yet another series of misadventures.

Reprising her role as Clark’s ever tolerant wife Ellen is Beverly D’Angelo. It’s fun to see her just sort of roll her eyes and accept whatever mad scheme Clark currently has. Her long-suffering and pragmatic attitude help to ground the audience and prove to us that at least one person understands just how silly these circumstances are. As always their children Rusty and Audrey are played by different actors than in the previous movies. This time around it’s amusing to see Juliette Lewis playing a typical teenager embarrassed by her outrageous dad and family. Two years later she would be nominated for an Oscar. It’s fun to see her evolution from this to the Cape Fear re-make to Natural Born Killers and Strange Days. I’m so used to her being the “bad girl” that it’s unintentionally hilarious that here she’s the innocent daughter. We also get Randy Quaid reprising his role from the first Vacation movie as the “bulging” Cousin Eddie. Amanda pointed out as we watched this tonight that Eddie’s antics prove that Clark isn’t completely stupid. He has a brain in his head… he is just a little too enthusiastic. And bumbling.

I keep asking myself as I watch this tonight why I enjoy it. It’s full of silly slapstick, Chevy Chase acting like a bumbling idiot, and embarrassing situations. But in a way it actually does have something to say about cherished Christmas memories. Sure everything in the movie is overblown and extreme, but thery’re reflections, in a way, of more pedestrian events from the Christmas experience that most people in my walk of life are familiar with. Having a family gathering full of loudly bickering people is hardly unheard of. The trials involved in acquiring a tree or decorating for the holidays are well known ones. So what this movie says, in its chaotic way, is that no matter how awful your holiday experience might be there is still hope. In the end Clark does feel like he managed in some way to build the Christmas memories he wanted to. In that regard this movie has a sort of warped nostalgia that reminds me more than anything else of A Christmas Story, which naturally is also going to be part of our twelve days of Christmas this year.

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

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