"Where do you think you're going? Nobody's leaving. Nobody's walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We're all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We're gonna press on, and we're gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse." —Clark W. Griswold Jr.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) is the third installment in the National Lampoon's Vacation film series.Clark Griswold has decided to host nearly his entire extended family at his house for the holiday season, including his parents, his in-laws, his senile old Aunt Bethany and, eventually, possibly-inbred cousin-in-law Eddie. As can be expected, everything goes horribly wrong in the most hilarious way possible.A perennial Christmas classic, the film received mixed positive critical reception, earning a solid 63% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is also notable for being the only one of the Vacation series to take place at the Griswold home.In 2003, a Made-for-TV sequel entitled National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure was released, which featured Cousin Eddie as the main protagonist, making it more of a Spin-Off than a sequel. It was reviewed on Red Letter Media's "Best of the Worst".
"We're going to have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas tropes ever":
Alcohol Hic: Ellen's mother has one while laughing at Clark's failed lights.
Animated Credits Opening: Apparently even Santa Claus isn't immune to the comic misfortune that permanently surrounds the Griswold family, as the opening credits show his disastrous attempt to deliver their Christmas presents.
Bumbling Dad: Clark is a prime example of this trope. He's well-meaning, and he's intelligent enough to have a well-paying white collar job, but every time he tries to create the perfect Christmas for his family some sort of disaster happens.
Clark, as usual for the Vacation films. Sometimes his misfortune is inflicted on him by others (such as when Ellen's mother closes the attic door to keep the cold air out, unaware that Clark is in the attic), and sometimes he is a victim of his own ambition (such as his wild toboggan ride after he greases it with an experimental non-stick coating), but his disaster magnetism is always played for laughs.
The other Griswolds are equally disaster-prone, mostly by being dragged along for the ride by the chaos that follows Clark everywhere.
The Griswolds' next door neighbors, Todd and Margo, are collateral damage for many of the misfortunes that Clark creates during the film (see Recurring Extra for details). But they are both shallow, smug, self-absorbed yuppies so it's hard to feel sorry for them.
Chekhov's Gun: Cousin Eddie's act of emptying out his RV's toilet into the Griswold's sewer is foreshadowed to have disastrous results... and thats exactly what happens in the last act of the film.
Cigarette of Anxiety: Ellen begins smoking while having a minor anxiety attack in the kitchen due to the stress of her parents and Clarke's parents staying in their house. Lampshaded when her mother somehow instantly knows that she's smoking, from the other room, the instant she lights up.
Everything's Nuttier With Squirrels: Clark brings a Christmas tree into the house, which turns out to house a live squirrel. Hilariously, the entire scene is played out almost like something out of a horror movie.
Fantasy Sequence: "Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say, on a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day…"
Floorboard Failure: A justified variant when Clark is trapped in the attic. He deliberately steps between the rafters rather than on them, so his weight is supported only by sheetrock which, unsurprisingly, eventually gives in.
The Grinch/The Scrooge: Clark's boss, who suspends his Christmas bonus in lieu of a membership to a Jelly-of-the-Month club. Notably, however, this one has a wife, who vocally expresses disgust at his miserliness once she learns what he's done.
Grumpy Old Man: Grandpa Art and Uncle Lewis. As far as the former is concerned, nothing Clark does is ever good enough. As far as the latter is concerned, nothing anyone does is ever good enough.
Happily Married: Although Clark does have an Erotic Dream about Mary (the sales clerk at the lingerie store), he and Ellen seem to love each other very much.
Heel Realization/Heel-Face Turn: Happens to Mr. Shirley after Clark gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech for canceling employee Christmas bonuses without telling them. Not only does this convince Mr. Shirley to reinstate the Christmas bonuses, but he tells Clark to add 20% to whatever he made last year (causing Clark to faint in disbelief).
Hope Spot: As things go From Bad to Worse at home, a courier suddenly shows up at Clark's door with an envelope from his boss. Clark thinks he's finally getting his Christmas bonus...only to find out that it's a year-long membership to the Jelly of the Month Club.
Noodle Implements: When even one of the SWAT team members calls Mr. Shirley out for not giving Clark a bonus.
SWAT Member: That's pretty low, mister! If I had a rubber hose, I would beat you into a...
Obnoxious In-Laws: Ellen's parents to Clark. They will never miss an opportunity to put Clark down.
Oh, Crap: Clark wears several of these expressions during the film.
The Griswolds finally find the perfect Christmas tree after a long trek in the freezing cold. Then Rusty pipes up: "Dad, did you bring a saw?"
Clark goes into the attic before anyone else is awake to hide his Christmas gifts. Then he hears Ellen's mother, wondering where the cold air is coming from, close the trap door behind him...
Over-the-top Christmas Decorations: Clark covers the entire house in lights. The entire house. They're evenly spread across the exterior walls. When he turns them on, the power plant has to activate an emergency power supply to keep things going.
Pretty in Mink: Mrs. Shirley wears a fox coat over her nightgown when the police take her to where her husband was kidnapped.
Rage Breaking Point: After all the problems up Christmas Eve, including having no money in the bank, Clark finally snaps when the boss stiffs him on his Christmas bonus.
Clark: Ahh... hey! If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I'd like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people. And I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is! HALLELUJAH, and HOLY SHIT! Where's the Tylenol?
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: Clark gives one to his boss, Mr. Shirley, for canceling Christmas bonuses and not even having the decency to tell his employees.
Recurring Extra: Clark's smug yuppie neighbors Todd and Margo Chester repeatedly get caught in the crossfire of the various Griswold family mishaps. When Clark is putting up the lights and almost falls off the roof, the ice in the gutter shatters the Chesters' upstairs window. When the lights finally turn on successfully, the Chesters are almost blinded and keep knocking over their furniture as they try to regain their bearings. When Clark cuts down the second tree, it crashes through the Chesters' dining room window. Margo chooses to confront Clark just as he and the rest of the family are fleeing the squirrel in their tree, and before she can knock on the door, Clark opens it to let both the squirrel and Eddie's dog Snot fly straight into her. Finally, the SWAT team descending on the Griswolds' house after Frank Shirley is kidnapped also smash through the windows of the Chesters' house.
Rhetorical Request Blunder: Clark reacts to the news that he received a subscription to a Jelly-of-the-Month Club in lieu of a Christmas Bonus from his boss by ranting that he wished the boss was right there so he could chew him out. His cousin-in-law promptly jumps into his RV and kidnaps said boss.
That Poor Cat: Aunt Bethany's kitty electrocutes itself chewing on a Christmas light cord.
The Unfavorite: Oddly enough, Ellen's father is shown to be much more approving of Cousin Eddie (the unemployed idiot who has his family living in an RV) than of Clark (who has provided Ellen with an upper-middle class lifestyle).
Women Are Wiser: Ellen is about the only normal and consistently level-headed person in the family.
X-Ray Sparks: Happens when Santa Claus gets electrocuted by the lights in the animated opening credits.
Yandere: Clark gets like this in the last act. Subverted, however in that he is a mostly nice person — he gets better pretty quickly when he finally gets a break.