National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is one of those hilarious Christmas movies I can't do without seeing at least once every holiday season. It was the third, and at one time thought to be the last, movie in the "Vacation" series starring Chevy Chase as the bumbling but good-hearted family man Clark Griswold with his devoted but often frustrated wife Ellen - always played by Beverly D'Angelo (the kids, Audrey and Rusty, in each movie are always played by different actors). This time the "vacation" is a "staycation" because the Griswolds don't go anywhere crazy, the crazy comes to them. Famous 80's teen movie director John Hughes is the writer here which is probably why this Vacation installment is so darned funny. In fact, it's based on Hughes' short story "Christmas '59" written in 1980, the second Vacation story to be published in National Lampoon's Magazine (the first was "Vacation '58", which the first Vacation movie was based on).
The plot can be summed up thusly: the Griswolds decide to have Christmas at their house and much family is invited (and a few who show up were certainly not invited).
All the hilarity in this film are pretty much derivative from that simple premise. The Griswold nuclear family are actually pretty functional - as opposed to being a "dysfunctional family" - except for the precarious situations Clark's idiocy creates. It's the rest of the clan, we find out in this film, that are actually insane. And we all know, many of us from personal experiences, how crazy our crazy relatives can be, which is how this film, as absurd as it can be at times, still hits home for many of us. These relatives include Clark's parents Clark Sr. (John Randolf) and Nora (Diane Ladd) and Ellen's parents Art (E.G. Marshall) and Frances Smith (Doris Roberts).
But, as I've already alluded to, Clark provides much hilarity on his own, much of it before all the nutcase relatives arrive. Let's just run through them shall we?
- In the opening scenes the family goes out to get a Christmas tree, Clark cuts one down that's way too tall, and a bit of road rage on the way back home finds Clark and his family in their station wagon under a tractor trailer's trailer.
- The too-tall tree causes destruction when they get it home and try to set it up.
- The "nipply" scene in the mall.
- Clark falls off the roof while putting up enough lights and Christmas decorations on his house to cause the town's electrical grid to almost fail. It also causes much disturbance to neighbors Todd and Margo Chester (Nicholas Guest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus).
- During a family sledding outing, Clark sprays a special super-lubricating substance from work on his metal disk sled. It causes him to zoom down the hill at near light speed, spraying snow and fire in his wake - probably the most hilarious scene in the movie.
- An insane squirrel escapes from Clark's ill-gotten Christmas tree - when it's already in the house - and wreaks havoc.
- Clark gets stuck in the attic alone. But actually part of this scene is touching; he finds old family home movies and watches them.
And there are probably others I'm forgetting.
Clark's kids this time around are played by future Roseanne and Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki and future movie star hottie Juliette Lewis. They, along with their mother, are always quite embarrassed by their father's antics but still love their good ol' dad dearly. And their dad desperately wants to get them an in-ground swimming pool built for Christmas, but he doesn't get the bonus he'd expected from his tightwad boss Mr. Shirley (Brian Doyle-Murray), which makes the pool a pipe dream.
In comes Clark's uninvited crazy cousin Eddie Johnson, played hilariously by Randy Quaid, and his downtrodden and eccentric family in their home on wheels. After Clark throws a tantrum because literally everything is going wrong (including the tree catching on fire), to apologize to Clark for his rude behavior during his uninvited stay and the destruction mostly caused by his dog, Eddie hatches an insane plot to fix the whole Christmas bonus situation... by going and getting Clark's boss, tying him up in Christmas light strands, and kidnapping him! Somehow Eddie and the Griswolds do not end up in jail and somehow Mr. Shirley realizes the error of his ways and gives Clark that bonus.
There are many more funnies I could speak of, like the cat, the gas explosion at the end that sends the plastic Santa and plastic reindeer zooming across the sky, but you all know about them, and if you don't yet, I'll let you discover them yourself. This movie, despite its insanity, is truly a Christmas classic.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Release Date: December 1, 1989
Directed By: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Written By: John Hughes
Running Time: 97 minutes
Distributed By: Warner Brothers Pictures
Starring: Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold), Beverly D'Angelo (Ellen Griswold), Juliette Lewis (Audrey Griswold), Johnny Galecki (Russell 'Rusty' Griswold), John Randolph (Clark Wilhelm Griswold, Sr.), Diane Ladd (Nora Griswold), E.G. Marshall (Art Smith), Doris Roberts (Frances Smith), Randy Quaid (Cousin Eddie Johnson), Miriam Flynn (Cousin Catherine Johnson), Cody Burger (Cousin Rocky Johnson), Ellen Hamilton Latzen (Cousin Ruby Sue Johnson), William Hickey (Uncle Lewis), Mae Questel (Aunt Bethany), Sam McMurray (Bill), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Margo Chester).