Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik
Christmas time has come and the Griswold Family plans a festive, traditional holiday but as relatives start arriving things go from bad to worse to the “the threshold of Hell,” as Clark puts it, as his attempts to make everything perfect fall apart.
Clark “Sparky” Griswold is quite possibly the role that Chevy Chase was born to play. Clark is Chase’s signature role with Fletch maybe being his second best remembered. While he was Pierce Hawthorne on Community for four years, the former two are what come to mind first with his character repertoire. Heck, they even overshadow his career making stint on SNL.
No one could have been a better Clark Griswold than him. He can go from affable suburban dad to wistful daydreamer about a fantasy life with a woman out of his league to a father pushed to insanity in an instant. Clark is a well-meaning father who at times daydreams but in the end loves his wife and kids and just wants to give them either what he had or what he feels he did not quite get when he was younger. While the outcomes may be disastrous, Clark’s heart is always in the right place.
A significant part of the staying power of this film is that many families have had that one crappy Christmas. There is almost always one that stands out because it did not go just right. They are going to visit relatives and things just have not worked out as well as planned. Or relatives come to them and nothing goes their way no matter how careful the planning. That is what happens in this movie, but it is taken to a hilarious extent. This is that rough Christmas amplified.
Despite all the craziness and all the insanity, the film at its core is sweet. It is about the season and the quirky dynamics each family has that may seem unusual to an outsider but are perfectly normal. This is exemplified in the moment when Clark gets stuck in the attic and he is reminiscing. It is a touching moment in a very outlandish comedy. Family moments get a comedic twist throughout.
There are just so many classic scenes in this movie. Aside from getting trapped in the attic, there’s Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) shooting down Santa Claus. There is Cousin Eddie kidnapping Clark’s boss Frank Shirley (Brian Doyle-Murray). There are the Christmas lights that Clark meticulously hangs causing a blackout. Clark and the family getting the tree at the beginning of the film. The squirrel that tagged along with the tree. That poor, poor cat. And it is all side splittingly funny. They even reference the original film with the Walley cups. Among the best and most comical is the sled scene when Clark uses the experimental lubricant. Anyone that has shot down a hill uncontrolled on a sled can relate to that scene.
The Griswold children get recast as they often do. Juliette Lewis takes over as Audrey Griswold who was previously played by Dana Barron who took over for Dana Hill. Johnny Galecki takes over as Russ Griswold who was originally played by Anthony Michael Hall with Jason Lively taking over for him. Most times the kids age from film to film but not here. Could you consider these kids never aging a running gag?
We meet some additional Griswold family members. All great actors that you know from at least one other thing. John Randolph plays Clark’s father Clark Griswold, Sr. Prolific actress Diane Ladd plays Clark’s mom Nora. William Hickey is one of those distinctive looking character acters with an equally distinctive voice. Here he is Clark’s Uncle Lewis. Mae Questel, the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl, plays Clark’s hilariously senile Aunt Bethany. The legendary E.G. Marshall is Ellen’s (Beverly D’Angelo) father Art. And finally, Doris Roberts appears as Ellen’s mom Frances.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was written by John Hughes who based it on his short story “Christmas ’59” that appeared in the National Lampoon magazine from which this movie gets part of its title. Despite feeling that this was only a vehicle for Chase, Hughes created an enduring classic that manages to be festive, have some heart, and is genuinely hilarious. Not an easy thing to accomplish under such circumstances. Factor in a change of directors from Chris Columbus to Jeremiah Chechik, it is impressive this has staying power. Those two behind the scenes things tend to make a mediocre movie at best.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a classic Christmas disaster comedy. It is funny and well written with great characters and tons of classic moments. It is an absolute Christmas classic.