National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Director: Jeremiah Chechik
Screenwriter: John Hughes
Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverley D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicholas Guest
Throughout the past few decades, Christmas has become its own genre of cinema. This wonderful time of year has spawned many great films, often full of warmth and romance, and giving audiences that special feel-good feeling. From the incredible It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) with its tender story and heartfelt message that’s able to move anybody to tears, to the ever popular Love Actually (2003) that still has an affect on viewers at this time of year with a lust for romance and passion, Christmas films are perfect for evoking a sense of togetherness at “the most wonderful time of the year”. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, however, doesn’t tick any of these boxes. Romantic, passionate and tender are not words that can be associated with this outrageously funny comedy, yet somehow it’s that very reason that makes Christmas Vacation stand out as one of the classic, if underappreciated, films of the festive season.
The film stars Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, a hardworking family man who rather haphazardly begins to organize his family’s Christmas. From ridiculously oversized trees, to covering the exterior of his house with over 25,000 fairy lights, there’s no denying Clark’s passion and excitement for the festive season, which makes a change from the pessimistic protagonist usually found in films set during this time of the year. The chaos ensuing at the Griswold residents is enough to alarm nosy neighbours Margo (a young Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Todd (Nicholas Guest), who grow more irritated with Clark’s antics. As Christmas day approaches, more and more Griswold relatives begin to arrive for the celebrations, including Clark’s wife Ellen’s redneck cousin Catherine (Miriam Flynn) and her husband Eddie (a hilarious Randy Quaid), who in particular add fuel to the proverbial fire at the Griswold residence. On top of that, Clark becomes distracted when he realizes he still hasn’t received his Christmas bonus despite being a loyal company man, which acts as the catalyst that finally pushes him over the edge.
Christmas Vacation is an endlessly watchable, farcical comedy much in the same vein as the previous Vacation instalments, elevated by its brilliant leading man Chevy Chase – every second he is on screen, it feels as if a laugh out loud moment is inevitable.
Clark grows more and more frustrated with the series of events occurring, and Chase demonstrates this hilariously through his over-exaggerated facial expressions. In particular, there is a moment where he explodes with aggravation, with Chase executing a hysterical rant that demonstrates just how great an actor he is when on top form – it’s perhaps such a good line reading it’s iconic in its own right.
Whilst James Stewart’s George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life is a fragile, vulnerable family man who feels worthless because of how he has been treated by his employer, Clark is simply annoyed at his employer because he hasn’t been given his bonus so that he can build a swimming pool for his loved ones. It’s this kind of simplistic reasoning for Clark’s madness that is so brilliant, because although it seems greedy and selfish, it’s extremely relatable for millions of people, and fits with the ridiculous tone of the film. Ellen (Beverley D’Angelo) has some shining moments as she attempts to be the voice of reason, but there’s no doubt the supporting MVP is cousin Eddie, who was so popular during the film’s release that Randy Quaid led the spin-off Christmas Vacation 2. He is dynamite in every scene, unpredictable in his actions with seemingly no idea too outlandish for what he might do next.
The script from beloved filmmaker John Hughes is great at encapsulating the chaotic nature of the story. It’s by no means a script that has any real depth but it does provide enough situational comedy that you can forgive the clunky, disorganised moments of the film. The only intent Christmas Vacation has is to make audiences laugh.
Jon Favreau’s Elf (2003) often gets the plaudits as the definitive festive comedy, but Christmas Vacation blows it out of the water for sheer hilarity and exuberance, with the script never letting up the chaos for a single second, even when the laughs don’t hit. Chechik’s direction features nothing technically brilliant or even flashy, but is effective at ensuring audiences know exactly what they need to be laughing at. During parts of the film, it’s not the actual event that has occurred that is funny, but the reaction from one of the great ensemble of characters, and Chechik establishes this very well.
Overall, if you’re looking for an energetic, outrageous comedy to sink your teeth into this festive season, look no further than Christmas Vacation. Chevy Chase is in top form as the chaotic Clark Griswold, with a host of brilliant supporting characters that provide laugh after laugh throughout the film’s relatively short runtime. The script is sharp at times (with some hilarious lines) and the direction allows the disaster to unfold seamlessly. Don’t expect the romance or passion of Love Actually, or the heart and warmth of It’s A Wonderful Life, but do be prepared to laugh non-stop at this highly entertaining farce.
Written by Bradley Weir
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