Christian’s Christmas: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

By Christian DiMartino

Of the five films in the Vacation series (yes, alas, I remember the 2015 reboot), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (which we’ll be just calling Christmas Vacation) is the only one where the Griswold’s don’t go on an actual vacation. Why call it Christmas Vacation then? Well, because their other family members are technically visiting, so that counts. Plus, any time spent with Clark Griswold is bound to be a trip.

The first film, called Vacation, is still arguably the funniest one- a movie so cheerfully tasteless, one could say that they don’t make’em like they used to. European Vacation is a little less memorable but it has its moments. It’s the third one though, the film of discussion, that most people say is the best. It’s a close call for me, because this film is hilarious, if of course a tad over the top at times. Hey though, this is Clark Griswold we’re talking about here.

The film follows the Griswold’s as they have their relatives over for the holidays. That’s it, really, but most of it revolves around Clark (always played wonderfully by Chevy Chase). Clark, as you may have deduced, is a family man so determined to make everyone happy that it sometimes drives him over the edge. The film essentially serves as a buildup to his usually legendary meltdowns. First, it begins with the arrival of the in-laws. Then, he has mishaps with getting his Christmas lights put up. When he isn’t fantasizing about a gorgeous department store worker, he is dreaming big regardless, in that he is banking on a large Christmas bonus from his preservatives (that’s what he does, right?) company. The unexpected arrival of Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid, may his sanity rest in peace) also doesn’t help things.

So yes, what you have here is a loose collection of story ideas… but that doesn’t matter, because Christmas Vacation makes up for it simply based on the merit that it’s hilarious. I’ve been watching this movie since I was about eight years old, and it’s a film that’s aged fabulously. Its jokes still land, and well, and even if you’ve seen it countless times, it is a film that doesn’t get old.

You know what has gotten old though? Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid. Sorry, perhaps that was uncalled for. Christmas Vacation is a reminder of a time long gone… in that they both, coincidentally, look like Santa Claus. Chase was always kind of an egomaniac (though his performance in both this film and the original Vacation do earn him some bragging rights); Quaid, as you all may have recently seen via Twitter, is mentally… let’s just say, not well. Yet their current selves aside, both of them are so good here. Chase is always at his best whenever he has a meltdown. Clark Griswold’s meltdowns are legendary, and part of what makes this character so endearing is how caring and loving he is, but the more and more he is pushed, the nuttier he gets. Quaid’s Cousin Eddie doesn’t help things, but Quaid kills here too. He’s the type who is stupid, but never in a million years could tell you why. Yet you also never know what to expect from this character either. He had a minor role in the original film, but they placed a lot of faith in him with this film, and he delivers (unlike, say, Mater in Cars 2).

There’s not much else to really write about Christmas Vacation, other than that it’s hilarious. Well, it is.

Grade: A-

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