Christmas Vacation [retro review]

“Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?”

The Scoop: 1989 PG-13, directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik and starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and Randy Quaid

Tagline: Yule crack up!

Summary Capsule: Time to do Christmas with the relatives, Griswald-style.

Justin’s Rating: How many reindeer does Santa have anyway? ‘Cause I just ate one.

Justin’s Review: Once upon a time, when this reviewer was just a wee laddie, we had what at first appeared to be the worst Christmas ever. My father was laid off from the mill a mere four days before Dec. 25th, my mother was pregnant with twin sisters, I had the chicken pox, and I was informed that because of our financial situation, I would not be getting that General Lee Hot Wheels action car (with Dixie horn!) that I wanted so bad. The situation was dire, and I felt pretty sad.

But the night before Christmas, when nothin’ was stirring in our house except a frisky dog with a small incontinence problem, I saw a speck of light in the sky. It was a star of course. So I wished upon that star to have a spectacular Christmas that next day. Then I went to sleep and awoke to the joyous sounds… of fire alarms. Yes, we had to evacuate our house on Christmas morning due to an overactive toaster, but the fire department did bring us some nifty firetruck toys.

For some reason, I just felt compelled to lie to you. None of that happened. But something sure did for the Griswalds (Clark, Ellen, Audrey, Rusty). National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a tradition around the Olivetti… um… apartment, basement, or whatever I happen to be living in at the time. It’s just a Christmas habit to be sitting with some friends and begin to quote this particular film. You ever do that, where you just give out one quote, then someone else feels compelled to come up with a better quote from the same movie, and soon enough you’ve re-enacted the entire film, scene-by-scene for your own amusement? And then you say, “Geez, we really gotta rent that flick!”? This is definitely one of those. You get extra points if you can do Aunt Bethany’s Christmas dinner prayer.

The only Vacation to be situated at the Griswold house, Christmas Vacation takes the most peaceful of holidays and turns it into a full scale riot. Clark (Chevy Chase) has a dream: the perfect Christmas with his family. Between that dream and reality lie a houseful of cranky relatives, a mean boss from work, yuppie neighbors, and our ever favorite Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid). Can I hear an A-MEN! for Eddie’s appearance in this movie? It’s cool how they do it, too; Eddie doesn’t show up until halfway through the film, when you think you’ve already been introduced to all the principal characters. But Eddie, the plate in his head, and his various family members are all there to share Christmas with the Griswalds, as are four grandparents and a smattering of uncles and aunts.

How funny is this movie? It’s so funny, they have to get somebody to pee your pants for you, because you’re too busy laughing. The comedy comes from all sides, including some terrific quotes, hilarious situations, and a bit of gross-out to send the eighties on in style. Yet, Christmas Vacation is smart enough to have a couple slow, sentimental bits (such as Clark watching home movies in the attic) and even some stand up and cheer scenes. I think I was more excited to see Clark get the house lit up (brighter than the core of the sun, I might mention) than to see those GAP astronauts blow up the asteroid in Armageddon. So make my tradition yours as well, keeping in mind that I charge a 10% royalty fee for all my traditions.

Rich’s Rating: Everyone has a favourite Christmas movie. This is mine. Well, maybe this and Die Hard… no, definitely this. Probably.

Rich’s Review: Ah, the holiday season. I guess that most people, myself included, have certain mental checkpoints when it comes to the impending season of goodwill, peace on earth, and wicked cool presents. There’s a kind of excitement that builds in me (because I love the holidays) each time one of those little moments occurs as December 25th looms ever closer. The first snow, the Christmas decorations appearing in the town centre (however this year, our town council appalled me however by putting up the decorations before Hallowe’en!), endless toy commercials on TV, and that stupid Coke “Holidays are coming” jingle all add up to the excitement and wonder that I’ve somehow managed to hang on to since I was a kid, mainly thanks to my parents who are bigger Christmas junkies than anyone I know and constantly make Christmas great fun.

One of those most treasured of Christmas milestones for me is the Christmas movie. Back when me and my sister were kids, it was always and without fail a showing of Santa Claus: The Movie (with Dudley Moore as an elf and John Lithgow as an evil candy maker in) on Christmas eve. But when me and my sister reached an age where that magical children’s adventure had lost some of it’s sparkle, a search was begun for a new Christmas movie that would become the staple of our family Christmases forever more.

In National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation we found the perfect match.

Since I was, I dunno, probably about 16 or so we’ve not gone a year without watching Christmas Vacation, and I will be taking my VHS tape of it out to Spain with me next week as I jet out to my parents palatial mansion so we can continue to keep the dream alive. Somehow, Christmas Vacation is cool, funny, and heartwarming enough so that as long as you only watch it once a year (or maybe twice, if it’s the summer and you’re in a need of a little heartwarming moment) that each time you see it it’s as heartwarming, funny, and cool as the very first time you saw it.

So why then? What makes this the most treasured holiday movie in the household? First and foremost, it’s funny. Really, really funny. I don’t care if it is 15 years old this year, good jokes don’t age, and NLCV is full of ‘em from start to finish. Also, there’s something absolutely identifiable with Clark Griswold’s utter desire to do right regardless of the circumstances that makes it both gutwrenchingly funny as he desperately maintains a façade of happiness as his sanity slips away, and completely inspiring. All my Christmases are and forever will be modeled on the Griswold Family Christmas ideal — have a good time despite whatever circumstances life happens to be throwing at, or dumping from a great height on you, at the time.

Chevy Chase absolutely owns every part of this film. Sure, Randy Quaid’s cousin Eddie is a great character, and has some fantastic lines, but for me this film is all about Clark. He’s a nice guy in hard times, trying to do right and occasionally succeeding, and spouting some of the finest lines in comedy history in the meantime. He’s fantastically sympathetic in parts as well, getting sentimental watching old home movies while trapped in the freezing cold attic, to buying presents for his cousin’s kids, it’s just so nice and jolly without being overly sweet and sugary and rotting your metaphorical Christmas teeth.

They even manage to slot in a pretty nice plot amongst the jokes as well, with Clark desperately waiting for his Christmas bonus so he can put in a pool in his house, and the machinations of his evil boss Mr. Shirley. There’s also a lot of fun to be had with Clark’s rivalry with Todd and Margo, the anti-Christmas yuppie next door neighbours who always seem to come out of Clark’s mishaps worse than he does…

I’d love to write more about this film, but I fear I’d just degenerate into happy burbling about how much I love it and what a symbol of all this good right and true it is. Instead, I will leave you with that thought and encourage you all to go, rent the film, and let a little of the Griswold family spirit into your heart this holidays. A finer cure for the Christmas blues there has never been.

Drew’s Rating: One of the chest holiday mo-… best, BEST holiday movies ever made! *ahem*

Drew’s Review: A friend of mine is going to Brazil for the holidays this year. Back in college we all made fun of him for minoring in Portugese; now he’s visiting the country with the least amount of clothing and highest percentage of breast implants in the world, so who’s laughing now? Regardless, he can’t really afford the trip without his quarterly incentive… a check that, as of last week, was a month and a half late. When he told me how desperate he was to get that bonus, I nodded sagely and said, “Dude… you pulled a Clark W. Griswold.” At which point he stared at me and said, “What the @%*# are you talking about?”

Some people.

Of course, the more enlightened among you know exactly what I’m talking about. Rejoining the Griswold clan for their third and arguably finest outing, we find Clark once more hellbent on crafting the perfect vacation for himself and his loved ones, with his hapless family swept along for the ride. Demonic Christmas lights, yuppie neighbors, even deadbeat Cousin Eddie — none of it can make poor Clark throw in the towel. But when his boss Mr. Shirley (Brian Murray, in perhaps his best role ever) gives old Scrooge a run for his money, can even Clark’s boundless optimism survive? Ho ho… no. That is, unless the magic of Christmas and unlawful abduction has anything to say about it…

I think the main appeal of this movie (and to some extent all the Vacation flicks) is being presented with exaggerated versions of things we’ve all lived through. Every family has at least one Cousin Eddie (ours owns a pig farm!), and if you tell me you’ve never cursed at that one string of lights that just won’t work after you spent 25 bleeping minutes hanging it, you’re a dirty liar. We’re all the Griswolds and Clark is our herculean Everyman, struggling through his holiday labors just as we have so many times ourselves. Sure it’s a cliché, but it also happens to be true: the best comedy derives from stuff you can relate to, and Christmas Vacation is the king of the heap in that respect.

I do love A Christmas Story, but growing up in my house there was only one holiday movie everyone could agree on, and this is it. While it may lack the subtler humor and whimsy of Ralphie and crew, Christmas Vacation blesses us with an infectious theme song, cute animated opening, and Chevy Chase’s patented “eyes wide open and blinking a lot” insane face, plus an honest-to-gosh sentimental (but not cloying) Christmas moral. They say lots of people get depressed around the holidays, but with movies like this around, I honestly don’t see how. Go blouse through your local video store for a copy today.

The SWAT team is here! NOW it's a party!

Intermission!

  • Clark staples the wrong part of his shirt to the roof.
  • The Macy’s parade occurs at Thanksgiving, not on December 16th.
  • Watch Ellen during the dinner and her subtle technique to get rid of her food
  • Clark and Eddie drink from “Marty Moose” glasses, the theme-park character from the first Vacation film
  • The scene where Clark takes the chainsaw and saws off the newel post is a reference to the newel post that was loose in It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Rusty is younger than Audrey in this film. In the other three Vacation films, Rusty is always the older brother.
  • This is the only Vacation movie of the series (with Chevy Chase) that does not feature Lindsay Buckingham’s song “Holiday Road”.
  • There are no mountains in Illinois.
  • Based on the article “Christmas ’59” by John Hughes. Yes, THAT John Hughes.
  • The house right next door to the Griswold’s house where the disgruntled Margo Chester, lives, is the same house Murtaugh and his family lived in all the Lethal Weapon movies. This street is owned by Warner Brothers strictly for movies.
  • After Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) unsuccessfully attempts to demonstrate his handiwork with the house Christmas lights to his family, he asks his son, Rusty (Johnny Galecki), to help him check all the light bulbs again. Rusty looks at his bare wrist, pretending to have a watch, and excuses himself. Looking at a bare wrist and pretending to have a watch is one of Chevy Chase’s trademark gags.

Groovy Quotes

Bethany: Is your house on fire, Clark?
Clark: No, Aunt Bethany, those are the Christmas lights.

Clark: Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?
Eddie: Naw, I’m doing just fine, Clark.

Aunt Bethany: Is Rusty still in the Navy?

Clark: The silent majesty of winter’s morn, the clean, cool chill of the holiday air, and an asshole in his bathrobe, emptying a chemical toilet into my sewer.
Eddie: S**tter was full.
Clark: Ah, yeah. You checked our s**tters, honey?

Todd: Hey Griswold. Where do you think you’re gonna put a tree that big?
Clark: Bend over and I’ll show you.
Todd: You’ve got a lot of nerve talking to me like that Griswold!
Clark: I wasn’t talking to you.

Clark: Well I’m gonna park the cars and get the suit cases, and well, I’ll be outside for the season.

Uncle Lewis: Hey Grizz, Bethany and I figured out the perfect gift for you.
Clark: Aw, you didn’t have to get me anything.
Uncle Lewis: Dammit, Bethany, he guessed it.

Clark: Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, kiss my ass. Kiss his ass. Kiss your ass. Happy Hanukkah.

Bethany: Don’t throw me down Clark.
Clark: I’ll try not to, Aunt Bethany…

Eddie: I don’t know if I oughta go sailin’ down no hill with nothin’ between the ground and my brains but a piece of government plastic.
Clark: Do you really think it matters, Eddie?

Eddie: You surprised to see us, Clark?
Clark: Oh, Eddie… If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am now.

Eddie: Every time Catherine would turn on the microwave, I’d piss my pants and forget who I was for about half an hour.

Audrey: Do you sleep with your brother? Do you know how sick and twisted that is?
Ellen: Well, I’m sleeping with your father.

Ellen: Oh Aunt Bethany, you shouldn’t have done that.
Aunt Bethany: Oh dear, did I break wind?

Clark: Since this is Aunt Bethany’s 80th Christmas, I think she should lead us in the saying of Grace.
Aunt Bethany: [turns to Lewis] What, dear?
Nora Griswold: Grace!
Aunt Bethany: Grace? She passed away thirty years ago.
Uncle Lewis: They want you to say Grace.
[Bethany shakes her head in confusion]
Uncle Lewis: The BLESSING!
Aunt Bethany: [they all pose for prayer] I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands/ One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Clark: Amen.

Clark: Hey, Kids, I heard on the news that an airline pilot spotted Santa’s sleigh on it’s way in from New York City.
Eddie: [after a pause] You serious, Clark?

Clark: Oh, I was just smelling – smiling. I was just blouse – brousing. I, uh, heh heh. Well, I guess it just wouldn’t… Oh hee hee, it wouldn’t be the Christmas shopping season if the stores were any less hooter than they – HOTTER than they are. Whew. It is warm in here, isn’t it?
Mary: You have your coat on.
Clark: Yes, oh do I? Yeah, it is a bit nipply out. I mean nippy. What am I saying, nipple?

Clark: WORSE? How could things get any worse? Take a look around here, Ellen. We’re at the threshold of hell!

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Vacation
  • Vegas Vacation
  • Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure
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10 Comments

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