National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for crude humor, mild language, and sexuality
Running Time: 97 min.
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, Brian Doyle-Murray, John Randolph, Diane Ladd, Nicholas Guest, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Miriam Flynn, Cody Burger, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, William Hickey, Mae Questel, Sam McMurray
Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Screenplay: John Hughes
Review published December 9, 2004. Revised December 20, 2017.
National Lampoonís Christmas Vacation is the perhaps best of the Vacation sequels, and, somehow, the one that feels the most different from the others, probably because it doesnít actually involve the Griswold family actually traveling anywhere. You definitely don't need to see the prior two films in the Vacation series to understand this entry. Itís become kind of a lowbrow Christmas standard for folks who arenít into watching the old black-and-white classics,plus those who want something easy for even the littlest ones to understand, and I guess it delivers enough laughs and Christmas cheer for most viewers. I honestly am a little perplexed by the appeal of it to some people, but I suppose it is light, silly and has some fun moments, so Iíll give the fans of it the benefit of the doubt. I kinda like itÖin a way. A really small way.
There isnít really much of a plot, as scripted by 80s film maestro John Hughes (adapting his own short story as published in National Lampoon magazine in 1980), as the film coasts with general setups to pratfalls and various calamities to befall Clark, usually of his own making. The Griswolds invite their relatives over for Christmas, most of whom are annoying or overbearing, while the climax of the film hinges on whether Clsrk will receive the Christmas bonus necessary for him to make sure he can provide a quality Christmas for everyone expecting proper presents and food on the table. Clark (Chevy Chase, Funny Farm) spends much of his time doing dumb things, like purchasing a gargantuan Christmas tree, putting a myriad of lights on his house, sledding down a mountain at hyper speed, torching a cat, chasing a squirrel, etc.
The character of Clark Griswold has changed from the prior outings from being a daft stooge to a complete klutz, so your mileage will vary as to how much that transition results in amusement for you. We once laughed with Clark and company for experiences that seemed to mirror some of our own, and now we just laugh at them for all of the idiotic messes into which they get themselves.
Directed by newcomer Jeremiah S. Chechik, who took over for the original director, Christopher Columbus, who walked during production due to differences with Chevy Chase (then worked with Hughes on his next project, Home Alone), Christmas Vacation is amusing in a modest way, occasionally delivering a solid laugh, although itís more of a movie that produces smiles than guffaws. Itís one of the better Chevy Chase comedic performances (not saying much here), and the supporting characters are well-cast with nice, amusing character actors (one should note that the Griswold kids, Rusty and Audrey, are once again replaced by new actors, here future star Juliette Lewis and "Big Bang Theory"'s Johnny Galecki).
It is a fairly crude comedy, and unfortunately, many Christmas movies made since have been of this variety, so I guess I do blame the creators for part of the reason why I usually despise todayís crop of Christmas movies. At least it came first, although John Hughesí script has many shades of A Christmas Story in it, with its clueless father, eccentric characters, and mean-spirited charm. This one expands the family to include the stodgy in-laws, and Cousin Eddie and his trashy redneck family, plus the stuck-up yuppie neighbors who can't stand the Griswolds and the noise and sight pollution they provide to the neighborhood.
I did laugh while watching Christmas Vacation -- not a lot, but more than I expected. Itís not generally funny to see Chevy fall from a ladder, get hit in the head, or any of the other calamities that occur during the course of the movie, but a few of the pratfalls are clever in their limited way, and this does contain some memorable highlights like the massive Christmas tree, the ultra-slick sled scene, the seemingly never-ending string of Christmas lights that are a pain to get working, and the fate of one curious cat. Iím not that into slapstick, but if you are, you may come away liking this for the simple pleasures, so long as you arenít expecting a genuinely affecting holiday classic.
If your idea of Christmas is more filled with the annoyances of dealing with overbearing extended family and the nuisances of putting together all of the trappings of the holidays, this one is probably more up your alley than those old classics that extol the virtues of human togetherness and joyful Christmas spirit. Other than that, it's thin material, but worth a look for a handful of funny scenes.
©2004, 2017 Vince Leo