National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the third instalment in the Vacation series, featuring the Griswold family on their mishap haphazard adventures. Written in true 80’s style by the Master John Hughes, the series catapulted Chevy Chase from SNL alumni to movie star. Christmas Vacation was released in 1989 with instant success and has since gone on to be regarded as a modern Christmas classic. It is the feature of all Christmas TV film runs and is the staple of my annual Christmas diet. For me, it’s a Christmas Classic.
Christmas Vacation opens with an animated Father Christmas disastrously delivering presents to households, whilst the song ‘Christmas Vacation’ plays out, signalling tales of things to come. We then see the Griswold family driving to the Christmas tree farm singing classic carols, with the kids in the back wearing the same tired angsty expression. The kind of slapstick seen in the opening title sequence and first few scenes is an indicator of what’s to come, and is just the kind of comedy needed for a family Christmas film.
The great thing about this film is that although the comedy is exaggerated slapstick and the characters are heightened caricatures, there’s still a sense of reminiscence with our own lives at Christmas, dealing with the trouble and strife of family life. The comedy is quick-fire, a little bit silly but a whole lot of fun and combined with all of the associated themes of Christmas – snow, lights, food, family and sledding – it makes for a really great Christmas film.
There’s just something about this film that makes it a classic and one that is mandatory to watch each year. For me I think it’s because it’s the closest to a real depiction of Christmas as there can be. There are plenty of films out there that feature the archetypal family-coming-together tropes such as This Christmas and The Family Stone but these films have a heightened sense of dramatization that almost remove the familiar association you can have with these kind of films, particularly when looking at the ridiculous and unbelievable ending to The Family Stone. Yet Christmas Vacation does something completely different – sure, Clark and Ellen’s parents are the classic Old-American parents who smoke, drink and talk of their ailments but the concept of this family’s Christmas is inherently familiar.
The film manages to balance its blend of slapstick comedy with really sweet and tender moments, such as the scene where Clark is locked in the attic and so decides to dig out the old 8mm home movies and fondly reminisces of Christmases gone by. It’s a really intimate moment that only highlights his passion for Christmas and why he wants it to be so perfect, despite the constant pitfalls he faces. Of course, this loving moment is only temporary as Hughes manages to end in a quick and hilarious manner. And let’s not forget Clark’s quest to get the house lit up with thousands of lights: his frustration is endearing but it’s the impact on his high-flying neighbours that give hilarious results.
Second only to Clark Griswold is the legendary Eddie, perfectly portrayed by Randy Quaid. With a brilliant entrance and a constant stream of perfectly timed scenes that include the classic Christmas Vacation catchphrase, Eddie is the second biggest heart of the movie whose touching story opens Clark up and again cements the heart-warming undertone of this movie. Eddie also becomes the catalyst in the final chain of events for the film…
And so to the defining moment of the film: Clark’s end-of-his-tether breakdown. All throughout the film Clark has been expecting his Christmas bonus from work in order to fund his dream of building a swimming pool in his back garden. He daydreams out of his cold winter window, imagining ‘Merry’ from his previous perverted shopping trip, stripping out of her swimwear and inviting him in to the pool. It’s almost like a mid-life crisis for Clark to get this swimming pool built, and upon finding out that his Christmas bonus is no longer the cold hard cash he needs but rather a year’s free membership to the Jelly of the Month club, Clark breaks down in a recognisably destructive fashion. The final scene of the film is a perfect summation of the tone of this film: hilarious, exaggerated yet heart-warming and charming. Clark was so desperate to have his swimming pool and his perfect family Christmas that he tries so hard not to cave with the pressure. We’ve all been there and can relate to that hair-pulling panic with a house full of rabble-rousing relatives. It is a perfect and classic Christmas film, one that will forever remain in the annals of Christmas movie history. Because at the end of the day with Christmas all around, there’s nothing better than looking out your window at “the silent majesty of a winter’s morn; the clean, cool chill of the holiday air; and an asshole in his bathrobe, emptying his chemical toilet into my sewer.”
Merry Christmas! Shitter was full!
TOMORROW: Christmas Classics: Elf