WRITTEN BY: Warren C. Bennett
From now until the end of the year, AKA “The Holiday Season,” I’m going to be reviewing a smattering of holiday movies. Today starts the Christmas portion of the Holiday film review. We start with the classic Christmas Disaster Film, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It stars Chevy Chase and Beverly D’angelo in their third outing as the Griswold’s.
It’s that time of year again. The folks in the desert start to pick out their favorite tumble-weed, those in the north begin to shovel snow and people on both coasts decorate their hearts out. These are yearly traditions for kith and kin around the holiday season. My holiday tradition started a few years back, in the late aughts. I go through my favorite Christmas movies and watch them as a lead in to the big day. One movie I watch regularly is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
I must admit that this is my favorite movie out of the whole Vacation franchise. I also should admit this is because it feels the same as when I eat macaroni and cheese or burritos; it’s a comfort for me while being a bit nostalgic. I don’t like writing reviews from memory so I decided to watch Christmas Vacation once again. I wanted to write these words fresh from my mind.
Although this is a Vacation movie, it doesn’t feature Lindsey Buckingham’s Holiday Road. Instead there is a cool little Christmas ditty that plays over the animated intro to the movie. This is a change-up, but it works well and sets the tone for the rest of the film. Of course, just like any Vacation movie, things quickly go from fairly normal to out of control.
One of the reasons I love this movie is how regular the Griswold family is portrayed. I think this movie shows them as a fairly typical unit more than any of the other Vacation entries. It is obvious the family loves each other, even when their particular habits annoy one another to distraction. This is really shown when the in-laws come to visit and start to thow a wrench in to the routine of the Griswold house.
The reason the Griswold’s strike me as an a fairly typical family in this installment isn’t because they are normal. I’ve been a part of and interacted with many families over the years and none of them can be considered normal. Christmas Vacation channels the barely contained insanity that is a major part of the existence of most families. This insanity can be both good and bad but it is always just right of normal. Although many of the situations here are a bit over the top, like Clark forcing the family to trek through miles of snow for the perfect Christmas tree, there is much truth to this family dynamic.
Another thing I noticed while viewing this movie is how well put together it is. Modern comedies tend to be more cobbled together productions full of bad improvisation that center around sex and drugs. This is a film written when comedies aspired to actually tell a cohesive story full of well written jokes. Christmas Vacation does have a few slow moments, most of the comedy in the movie works well. I can tell how the movie was crafted and built while watching. it isn’t just not one barely related scene followed by another.
An example of this is when Cousin Eddie starts to unload the waste from his bathroom in to the Griswold’s sewer. Clark and his wife discuss why this act is illegal. This is a set up for a bit towards the end of the movie when Uncle Lewis lights a cigar near the sewer opening. There are moments like this throughout the whole movie, pieces that might seem like one-off jokes but are set ups for another part of the plot. Christmas Vacation has a well written and crafted feel I just don’t see in many modern comedies.
That isn’t to say Christmas Vacation is the perfect movie. No movie can be perfect, can it? There are moments that are oddly edited together, slow parts that tend to drag and jokes that just don’t work well. Any movie will have parts that don’t work as well as other parts. However, Christmas vacation pulls the various themes and jokes together in a better fashion than the other movie in the franchise. It works from the time the Griswold’s are taking home their tree to the moment Clark starts his thirty word tirade against his boss. This wasn’t a movie made to be an Oscar contender but, as i said before, the quality compared to modern comedies astounds me.
This is a great movie to watch around the holidays to remind yourself that you are not alone. If you have the occasional freak out when relatives come over or that occasional Christmas light fueled blackout, this is the movie to watch. Be warned it does have some mild cussing and one f-bomb, so it might not be good for the little kids to see but the rest of the family will probably enjoy the flick. Although very few people have experienced exactly the Christmas depicted in the film, many can relate the sheer chaos that being around a large family can bring during the holidays.