Eye For Film >> Movies >> National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) Film Review
Poor Clark Griswold. No matter how optimistic he is, his family vacations always seem to go severely wrong. First time around he went across America in a metallic pea station wagon and it ended in disaster. Then they went across Europe and met similar, albeit much less funny, results.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Griswolds, Clark is a food additives expert who works for a company that doesn't appreciate him. He sets high standards for holiday events that no one can live up to and is notorious for dragging his grudging family along on every painstaking detail of every scheme. His wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) is the voice of reason, who keeps the family rooted in reality and responds with frequent deadpan bewilderment to his constant disasters. The long-suffering kids, Russ and Audrey (Johnny Galecki and a very young Juliette Lewis) have turned into the living embodiment of pure cynicism, but there's no talking any sense into Clark Griswold. Ever!
But now Clark just wants to stay at home in the snowy Chicago suburbs for a "fun, old-fashioned, family Christmas" and he's going to let nothing stop him. His enthusiasm for the holidays manages to infect the audience and you'll be rooting for him the whole way. He's an anti-Scrooge and if you're having a Christmas crisis then you need to watch this movie. Any disasters can be overcome.
But that's easier said than done. He didn't bargain on bickering family members (including the voice of Betty Boop, Mae Questel, as a senile old aunt), a house covered in non-working Christmas lights, a seriously over-cooked turkey, snotty Yuppie neighbours making fun of him, or Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his hickabilly family turning up unannounced to sponge some Christmas cheer.
What stops it from being just another generic Christmas movie is a brilliant script by John Hughes, packed full of hilarious set pieces and perfect comic timing from Chevy Chase. He's a great actor, but his appeal sadly declined in the Nineties when he refused to evolve into more serious roles, like Bill Murray did. Clark Griswold and Fletch are probably his most famous roles and this Vacation is definitely one you need to take.
It's hard to pick the best moments, but Quaid's sudden appearance will make you grin a mile wide, a cat wrapped up in a box (with Happy Birthday paper!) that meets an unfortunate end and "an asshole in his bathrobe emptying a chemical toilet into the sewer" are just plain brilliant.
What makes Christmas Vacation so much more special than all the other Christmas movies is that wonderful theme song! It's absolutely brilliant! But that ain't the only great tune the film has to offer. There are also classic numbers by Ray Charles, Bing Crosby and Gene Autry.
Since Christmas is full of annual traditions, this film is definitely one you should add to the list. It would be criminal to give it anything less that the highly coveted Gator MacReady Claw of Approval.Reviewed on: 16 Dec 2005