Film / National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

"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!"

Released in 1989, this third installment in the National Lampoon's Vacation film series was directed by Jeremiah Chechik and cowritten by John Hughes. Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo once again star as Clark and Ellen Griswold, with Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki appearing this time out as Audrey and Rusty, respectively.

Clark has decided to host nearly his entire extended family at his house for the holiday season, including his parents (John Randolph and Diane Ladd), his in-laws (E. G. Marshall and Doris Roberts), his crotchety Uncle Lewis (William Hickey) and senile Aunt Bethany (Mae Questel), and his possibly-inbred cousin-in-law Eddie (Randy Quaid). Meanwhile, he's counting on a large Christmas bonus from his boss (Brian Doyle-Murray) to help pay for his surprise present for the family: a backyard swimming pool. As can be expected, everything goes horribly wrong in the most hilarious manner possible.

A perennial Christmas favorite, the film received mixed positive critical reception, earning a solid 63% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is also notable for being the only entry in 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.

"We're going to have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas tropes ever":

  • Absurdly Bright Light: The house's battery of Christmas lights (when they work).
  • Accidental Misnaming: Clark's boss never gets his name right until the very end.
  • 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.
  • Ass Shove: "Bend over and I'll show ya!"
  • Atomic F-Bomb: Clark's rant against his boss after his Berserk Button is pushed. "Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where's the Tylenol?"
  • Ax-Crazy: Clark kinda gets a little chainsaw happy at the height of his Sanity Slippage.
  • Backhanded Compliment: In one scene, Clark says that Eddie's "heart is bigger than his brain." To which Eddie replies "I appreciate that, Clark."
  • Berserk Button: When Clark finds out that instead of a check his Christmas bonus is a year-long membership to the Jelly of the Month club, he does not take it well.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Once Clark gets pushed that last bit too far...
  • Big Blackout: Clark causes one when he turns his Christmas lights on. For only 10 seconds.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The SWAT team does this in the last act for Mr. Shirley. However, once they learn why he was kidnapped, they change tune:
    SWAT Commander: That's pretty low, mister! If I had a rubber hose, I would beat you into a...
  • Big Eater: Snots the dog and cousin Eddie.
  • Bookends: A rare one that doesn't span the entire movie. After it switches from cartoon to live-action and the opening credits song fades out, we hear Clark and Ellen singing the last two lines of "O Come All Ye Faithful" while in their car. As the scenario ends with their car driving away, not only do we hear an instrumental version of the same song, it's only the last two lines.
  • Brick Joke:
    • The flammable sewer gas.
    • Clark's remark about the tree drying up.
  • 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.
  • Butt Monkey:
    • 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.
  • Captain Obvious: Ellen at the beginning of the film.
    Ellen: Clark, we're stuck under a truck!
    Clark: Do you honestly think that I don't know that?!
  • Cheerful Child: Ruby Sue holds out hope that Santa will visit her.
  • 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 that's 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.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Clark's in laws have no respect for him and take every opportunity to put him down, but when Clark opens his letter to find he got a membership to a Jelly-of-the-Month club instead of the Christmas bonus he long sought after, they both look genuinely disappointed and saddened for him.
  • 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.
  • Freudian Slip: "We needed a coffin — I mean a tree."
  • Freudian Slippery Slope: The mall scene where Clark is talking to the buxom sales clerk:
    • "I was just smelling — smiling! I was just blous — browsing..."
    • "Yeah, it is a bit nipply out."
  • From Bad to Worse/Gone Horribly Wrong: The whole movie is the family's holiday doing this.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: "Sorry. Shittin' rocks."
    • From the same scene: "Sometimes I think all that Santa crap is just bull. If he was so real, how come we didn't get squat last year? We didn't do nothin' wrong, and we still got the shaft."
  • The Grinch/The Scrooge: Clark's Mean Boss, Mr. Shirley, who suspends Clark's 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.
    • The snooty yuppie neighbors, Todd and Margo, eschew a Christmas tree — and, apparently, the holiday itself — on the grounds that it's "dirty and messy and corny and clichéd".
  • 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).
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Clark goes through a very memorable one.
  • Hockey Mask and Chainsaw: Clark when cutting the Christmas tree down to size.
  • 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.
  • Innocent Bystander: Todd and Margo may be obnoxious jerks, but the stuff that happens to them is just because they live next door.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Clark is driven insane by the sequence of events in the movie, but he bends over backwards to accommodate the bizarre group of diverse personalities in his extended family, and he just wants to have a nice, family holiday together. Meanwhile, he's going through stress issues at work and doing everything he can to support his family. Eventaully, he snaps.
  • Long List: Clark Griswold's terms for his boss (see Rage Breaking Point for the transcript).
  • Made of Explodium: The tree, the sewer gas, that crazy lubricant stuff Clark greased up his sled with.
  • Rage Breaking Point: After all the problems of 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?
  • Rant-Inducing Slight: When Clark's in-laws are getting ready to leave after the myriad screw-ups, Clark snaps.
    Clark: Where do you think you're going? Nobody's leaving! Nobody's walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas! Noooo, 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 fuckin' 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!
    Art: You're goofy.
    Clark: Don't piss me off, Art.
  • "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.
  • Rich Bitch: Subverted. Mrs. Shirley seems to be this at first, as we see her preening and primping in her car before coming into the Griswold's house. However, we find that she's genuinely relieved that her husband is OK, and reveals herself to have a strong moral compass with her disgust for Mr. Shirley's cutting of the bonuses.
  • Sanity Slippage: Clark goes through one, completely justified in his Heroic B.S.O.D. later on.
  • Senior Sleep Cycle: According to the DVD commentary, the grandparents had a side bet going during filming as to who could appear asleep on screen most often.
  • Sexy Secretary: Mary. See Ms. Fanservice above.
  • Slasher Smile: Clark, in the last act.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "Here Comes Santa Claus" plays while the entire police force starts gathering up en masse outside the Griswold house.
  • Spit Take: Clark gags on his eggnog when Eddie casually mentions that he plans on staying for at least a month.
  • Stepford Smiler: Clark, at the start of the last act.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Courtesy of Uncle Louis tossing his match at the gas-filled sewer.
  • Tag Line: Yule crack up!
  • That Poor Cat: Aunt Bethany's kitty electrocutes itself chewing on a Christmas light cord.
  • Theme Music Abandonment: The only film in the series not to feature "Holiday Road" by Lindsey Buckingham. It instead features the equally-memorable "Christmas Vacation" by Mavis Staples.
  • 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). Clark's treatment of Aunt Edna's (Frances or Art's sister) corpse in the first movie probably has something to do with it.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): National Lampoons Christmas Vacation