National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) Warner Bros./Comedy RT: 97 minutes Rated PG-13 (language, slapstick violence, sexual humor/content, gross humor) Director: Jeremiah Chechik Screenplay: John Hughes Music: Angelo Badalamenti Cinematography: Thomas E. Ackerman Release date: December 1, 1989 Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid, Miriam Flynn, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, John Randolph, Diane Ladd, Mae Questel, William Hickey, Cody Burger, Ellen Hamilton, Sam McMurray, Brian Doyle-Murray, Nicholas Quest, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Nicolette Scorsese, Natalia Nogulich, Alexander Folk.
Spending time with the family during the Christmas holiday is as traditional as drinking eggnog and kissing under the mistletoe, but if the family in question happens to be the Griswolds, you might want to consider creating new traditions. As you may remember, this is the same family whose previous vacations (to a theme park and through Europe) became a series of unbelievable disasters. Much to the relief to the sane public, Clark Griswold (Chase, Fletch) has decided to spend Christmas at home this year amongst his extended family, he's invited the whole brood to spend the holidays at his suburban home and, of course, it's a catastrophe just waiting to happen.
He's completely oblivious to the fact that his idea of "...... a good, old-fashioned family Christmas." isn't going over so well with his wife Ellen (D'Angelo, Coal Miner's Daughter) and children, Audrey (Lewis, Mixed Nuts) and Rusty (Galecki, The Big Bang Theory). Things start off with a bang as Clark drives his family to the country to chop down the perfect Christmas tree, the fact that he brought neither an axe nor a saw isn't going to spoil his fun, he simply digs the tree out of the ground and takes it home, roots and all. Then the family arrives, his parents Clark Sr. (Randolph, Prizzi's Honor) and Nora (Ladd, Wild at Heart) and her parents Art (Marshall, Superman II) and Frances (Roberts, Everybody Loves Raymond). It's crowded enough that Audrey and Rusty have to share a bed, talk about a disturbing childhood memory! Meanwhile, Clark is fretting about his yearly Christmas bonus from work, he still hasn't received it and he's already placed a hefty down payment on an in-ground swimming pool. A couple of unexpected, uninvited and unwanted guests show up one night, good old Cousin Eddie (Quaid, Kingpin) and his family, his wife Catherine (Flynn, National Lampoon's Class Reunion) and their two children Rocky (Burger, Heavyweights) and Ruby Sue (Latzen, Fatal Attraction). If you looked up "white trash" in the dictionary, you'd see a picture of Cousin Eddie smiling back at you. They show up in an ugly RV with their messy dog and park it right in the driveway. What was it that Oscar Wilde said about being careful about what you wish for?
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is one of those comedies where everybody has their favorite scenes, this movie is full of funny moments as Clark tries to give everybody a Christmas to remember. Almost everybody puts Christmas lights on their house, but only Clark would put up enough of them to force the power company to turn on the auxiliary nuclear generator after nearly causing a large blackout. He puts up 250 strands of lights, each one with 100 lights, making a grand total of 25,000 twinkling lights. Clark lives next door to an obnoxious, materialistic yuppie couple, Todd (Guest, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) and Margo (Dreyfuss, Seinfeld), and he makes their lives hell as he destroys their house and expensive possessions in his quest for the perfect family Christmas. An elderly uncle Lewis (Hickey, Prizzi's Honor) burns down the Christmas tree while lighting a cigar, it's Christmas Eve and there's no place to buy one at that late hour so Clark improvises and cuts down a tree outside his house. After bringing it into the living room, he discovers that the tree is home to a squirrel who jumps out and attacks Clark. The dog spots the little animal scurrying about and chases it around, destroying everything in his path. A sledding trip almost becomes deadly after Clark sprays an untested non-stick cooking spray to the bottom of his saucer, he goes flying at top speed down the hill, across the highway and right into Wal-Mart's parking lot. Senile and almost completely deaf Aunt Bethany (Questel, New York Stories) shows up bearing unique gifts, she's wrapped up her cat and her infamous lime jello mold with pieces of dry cat food. Cousin Eddie stands on the front lawn in his bathrobe emptying the toilet and announcing to the yuppies next door, "S**ter was full!". Of course it wouldn't be a Vacation movie without Clark having a complete meltdown and going into one of his infamous profanity-laced tirades, this time it goes like this:
"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, d**kless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey s**t he is! Hallelujah! Holy s**t! Where's the Tylenol?"
And a few moments later:
"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 f**king Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of a**holes this side of the nuthouse."
Every time I hear Clark Griswold going off like that, I can't help but think of my own father and his frequent explosions during the holiday season, the only thing missing from the movie is Clark screaming at his wife because he can't find any extension cords. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is a very funny movie for the most part, but some dramatic elements manage to sneak into the mix after Clark learns that Cousin Eddie has lost his house (that's why they live in the RV) and he can't even afford to buy presents for his children. The funniest moments belong to Clark, he really is a stupid jackass! Whether he's playing dangerous road games with a couple of dim-witted rednecks, making a bumbling fool of himself in front of an attractive lingerie salesgirl or getting emotional about his elaborate light display and some old home movies, Chase makes Clark Griswold both a clown and a sympathetic figure. This man loves his family and he'll do anything to give them a merry Christmas full of wonderful memories. Randy Quaid is hysterical as the big-hearted and soft-brained Eddie, he means well but he's completely oblivious to the fact that he's about as sophisticated as a farm animal. The late Mae Questel, who also provided the voice of Olive Oyl in the Popeye cartoons, is a scream as the doddering octogenarian who "...... couldn't hear a dump trunk driving through a nitroglycerin plant." When she's asked to say grace before dinner, she replies that Grace (whoever that is!) has been dead for 30 years. When she finally understands, her version of grace is truly unique. It's weird to see Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki so early in their careers, it's almost hard to believe that Lewis would be nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar (Cape Fear) a couple of years later and Galecki would become a cast member of two hit sitcoms, Roseanne (1988-97) and The Big Bang Theory (2007-present). I didn't like this movie when it first came out, it just wasn't that funny to me at the time. Over the years, I've developed a real affection for National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, the situations keep getting funnier every time I watch the movie. It's not a perfect movie, but it gives the viewer the greatest gift of all, the gift of laughter.