Reviews: National Lampoons Christmas Vacation

Hip, hip, hurray for Christmas Vacation!

Yeah, I've got a bit of a mixed history with the Vacation movies. They're likeable and enjoyable and all that, but they've always seemed a bit, I don't know, hokey and self-satisfied. ...Just like Chevy Chase himself, I guess. Huh. Anyway, that caveat tends to manifest itself as a tendency to give away a joke's punchline before it happens. European Vacation, for instance, turned this into a fucking art form, making it one of those few movies that turns everyone into a clairvoyant for an hour and a half. Magical and all that shit but it ain't what I want out of a movie.

It's refreshing then, to find that this approach to comedy kind of fits very well into the framework of a Christmas movie, where predictability tends to be kind of nice. After all, you tend to end up watching these movies year after year anyway. Christmas Vacation mixes up the usual borderline-sociopathy of the Griswalds' messed-up family dynamics with some tongue-in-cheek Christmas cheesiness to great effect, and even manages to conjure up a genuinely affecting moment of seasonal poignancy or two along the way.

For all his flaws of being "goofy", forgetful, and short-sighted, Clark Griswald truly does come off as "the last true family man" here. His all-or-nothing-at-all Christmas spirit, bordering on psychopathic zealotry, is curiously infectious, and you really want the guy to succeed in creating his ideal family Christmas celebration. And despite insane relatives, angry squirrels, and one fucking a-hole of stingy boss, he sort of does... in that unique Griswald way. That tree lighting scene is a thing of true joy. It's a credit to Chase that he never lets his douchey tendencies colour his performance.

And lest we forget, the thing is chock full of classic lines, in that irascible, indelibly '80s kind of way. "Nipply out", "Shitter was full", Clark's meltdown, it's a goddamn riot when this film's cooking with gas! Hey, it's the movie that makes you pop the Weirdest Boner of Christmas Past whenever "Mele Kalikimaka" comes on the radio (unless you do that anyway 'cause you're sweet on the Andrews Sisters or something. No judging here!).

Despite being a bit too hyperkinetic and slapsticky at times, Christmas Vacation is one of those irreverent seasonal offerings you just plain need as a breather sometimes.

It Means Something Different to Everybody

When the Griswolds demonstrate their take on the holiday season, witty lines and memorable slapstick are abound. But what makes this installment of the Vacation series rise to the classic levels of the original (and possibly above) is its poignancy— yes, it's possible for a film held together by unsubtle hit-or-miss gags to have an astute sense of emotion. What makes Clark such an enjoyable lead is how his two different dispositions are demonstrated as functioning side by side in the first half of the movie, but slowly dissolve into one another as circumstances continue to conspire against him. It's true that having the whole family together is chaotic, but the one thing that Clark actually lets get to him is the feeling of letting them down. This personal burden, which his lovable over-the-top personality doesn't allow him to carry easily, reveals just how emotional of a person he really is— a true family man. He may occasionally snag a look at Nicolette Scorsese's ass, but his heart is always in the right place.

I have a friend who considers National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation a detestable compilation of scarce, cheap, cliched laughs and absurd direction with an inability to produce sufficient heart in the wake of how little it can be taken seriously. On the other hand, I myself view Christmas Vacation as a holiday classic, with a surprisingly realistically articulated Dysfunctional Family dynamic that's not undermined by its refreshingly campy humor. Either way, this is a movie worth checking out for more than just the laughs it brings to the table— it's an opportunity to assign sincerity where one sees it fit.
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