National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the second of the Vacation series and was also written by family film genius John Hughes. It was released in 1989 and stars Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, John Randolph, Diane Ladd, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn. It was directed by Jeremiah Chechik who had only previously directed music videos. When people think of Christmas movies, this is usually on their top 10 list However, I don’t believe I ever saw it so am watching with a fresh set of eyes.
The Griswold family are in their car and out looking for the perfect Christmas tree. They battle the elements until they find the perfect tree then realize they didn’t bring anything to cut it down with. The next scene is their car traveling with the tree roots and all, so they must have been able to dig in the frozen ground to retrieve the tree. After somehow getting the tree into the living room, Clark (Chevy Chase) undoes the rope holding the tree and it unfurls breaking almost everything in the room.
The next day, at work, Clark confides in a co-worker that he has already made a down-payment on a pool since he is sure his bonus check will be even bigger this year. After work, he goes shopping and gets a little tongue-tied looking for gifts for his wife, at home his and his wife Ellen’s (Beverly D’Angelo) arrive and immediately begin “old people” talk of their latest ailments.
Clark decides to decorate the house this year with over 250 strands of lights to outdo last year. While on the roof he accidentally breaks the gutter sending giant icicles flying through the air and into the neighbor’s house, breaking their stereo. The family then gathers outside for the grand lighting ceremony and nothing happens. Everybody goes to bed – except Clark who continues to try and figure out what happened and the house eventually lights up thanks to a switch flipping. The next day Clark gets locked in the attic. Later when he gets out, he is greeted by the doorbell ringing and his cousins Eddie and Catherine show up with their kids and Clark is not pleased, especially when he catches Eddie emptying his RV’s sewage tank into the sewer.
Eddie later confides that he and his wife are broke and have sold their acreage and house to buy the RV. Clark says he will make sure his kids still have a good Christmas. The family sits down to an overcooked Christmas Eve dinner while the cat chews on the Christmas tree light cord and is electrocuted. A postman arrives and gives Clark an envelope – the bonus he has been waiting for – only to find it is a subscription to the jelly of the month club. Eddie kidnaps Clark’s boss and brings him to the house where everything wraps up by the boss reinstating the Christmas bonuses, the sewer ignites sending Clark’s Santa sleigh flying into the air and Aunt Bethany starts singing The Star-Spangled Banner.
As I mentioned earlier, Christmas Vacation has become one of the more popular Christmas films and one that many people watch every year. That is, everybody who was born in 60s or 70s watch every year. Even for me, this is a very difficult movie to watch – especially the first time. Chase is an incredibly talented comedic actor and he manages to do a lot with the film’s practical effects and physical comedy.
However, the film is definitely not for younger kids unless you want to explain to them why certain parts are “so funny.” If you do show it to younger kids, they will even find everything that happens to Clark incredibly funny or incredibly no-funny. I chose the latter. While I do enjoy a good quip, I personally have never found the falling-down-the-stairs, falling off ladders type of physical comedy very funny. The film is good for a few one-liners and to make sure you fit in with people quoting the movie, but as far as an annual watching tradition – I’ll pass.