CHRISTMAS VACATION came across Amazon Prime and I realized that is has been far too long since I’ve seen it. This was one of those movies I saw pieces of so many times as a kid, but really only watched all the way through once.


I watched NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989) on 11.24.13. It was my second viewing of the film, and first in a decade or so.

Sometimes the egg clearly comes first. Sometimes the chicken. Sometimes, it is hard to tell. With CHRISTMAS VACATION it is hard to say whether John Hughes script is truly wonderful, or if it is only the immense talent of  Chevy Chase which elevates the material. In a way it doesn’t matter. The result is funny.

Clark Griswold (Chase) is hosting Christmas at his house. This is the third entry in the VACATION series and the family is all there; some welcome, some not. The house is full already when cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) pulls his rusted RV up to the house to add to the chaos. There is an unimportant side plot involving Clark waiting for his Christmas bonus, but that’s really just a means by which to tie the movie together and to create more pain for Clark. We know it is going to hurt when the ‘check’ finally gets there, because so much has been invested in setting it up.

Truly, this is a movie about comedic set pieces. Clark cutting the tree. Clark lighting the tree. Clark getting stuck in the attic. Clark sledding. The fried cat. The cooked tree. The squirrel. This is the episodic John Hughes, a la HOME ALONE or FERRIS BUELLER rather than the tight script of BREAKFAST CLUB. That doesn’t, of course, work against CHRISTMAS VACATION. Instead, it is the perfect vehicle within which Chase can work.

This is not a Hughes directing project. Instead, those honors are held by Jeremiah Chechik. This was his debut directorial effort, and he keeps his hands off artistically. The movie is a standard film comedy without unnecessary camera angles or flare. Being a comedy, we don’t miss any of that style; this movie doesn’t need it. Instead, we get to sit back and enjoy some laughs.

When sentimentality is attempted it is not effective; but it does not detract from the movie either. This is a Christmas movie, after all, so some shot across the bow of Peace On Earth must be attempted. But the message is as painted on as it feels. Again, it doesn’t hurt the movie, the heartfelt stuff just feels unnecessary.

The subplot with the neighbors (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest) may devolve into absurdity, but they also serve as unlikable foils to make us feel better about the destructive nature of the Griswolds. Everything Clark touches may get ruined, but we get to enjoy it without feeling bad for him when his reign of terror haplessly creates victims of the neighbors.

CHRISTMAS VACATION isn’t the funniest movie ever, but it provides plenty of laugh out loud humor. Like all good comedy, it is a movie which rewards multiple viewings. It is almost better if you know what is coming. Chevy Chase gives a memorable and endearing performance, and there is a reason this is so well loved. This is a film which certainly deserves to be in the rotation every holiday season.





~ by johnlink00 on December 24, 2013.

5 Responses to “johnlink ranks NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)”

  1. Agreed on almost every count.

    Good review!

  2. Good review! This movie is such a holiday tradition for my family. 🙂

  3. You are right about it being more episodic. It does help add to the humor more.

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