Family reunions are often disastrous, dysfunctional, and dreaded. The Christmas holiday brings bundles of joy, seasonal cheer, and familial gatherings. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” depicted the familiar Griswold clan in all their glory, this time with a holiday backdrop. Hilarious, relate-able, and phenomenally well-acted, “Christmas Vacation” reminds us that holidays are naturally insane.
It’s almost Christmas, and Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) loads up the car with his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), son Rusty (Johnny Galecki), and daughter Audrey (Juliette Lewis). Together, the Griswolds trek into the country to find a Christmas tree. Unfortunately, Clark forgets a key instrument: an axe. This botched excursion sets the tone for the entire Christmas holiday.
Clark and Ellen’s parents both come to stay for Christmas, arriving with joyous tidings and constant quarreling. The Griswold’s vow to dismiss the negativity and focus on having a lovely holiday. Unfortunately, karma threatens to spite them. In true neighborhood fashion, Clark decorates his house with an obscene amount of lights, which naturally doesn’t go as planned. The rapidly declining holiday takes an unexpected turn when Ellen’s cousin Catherine (Miriam Flynn) shows up with her spouse Eddie (Randy Quaid) and their kids Ruby Sue (Ellen Hamilton Latzen) and Rocky (Cody Burger).
“Christmas Vacation” is the quintessential Christmas flick where everything that can go wrong does. Sure, it’s over the top, but this is the nature of holidays. There are seasonal traditions, such as decorating the tree, carving the turkey, and making jack o’lanterns, as well as the unplanned customs. After lugging out the tangled strands of lights, there’s always at least one string that inexplicably won’t light. Family gatherings can often border on annoyance rather than joy, which “Christmas Vacation” addresses.
However, the comedy nails its satire by lampooning the holidays, and mimicking reality. Ok, so maybe the SWAT team doesn’t usually arrive on Christmas Eve, but “Christmas Vacation” enables us to laugh at our bungled holidays, rather than wallowing in misery. Additionally, it reassures us that we’re not alone in having loons for relatives. While “Christmas Vacation” becomes a bit cartoonish, the characters are remarkably grounded, which lends the film a more realistic quality. Comedy manages more success when based in truth, which is where the veteran acting comes into play. Convincing performances from Chevy Chase as the distraught Griswold, and Randy Quaid as the annoying but likeable Uncle Eddie make “Christmas Vacation” a masterpiece.
Amid the overabundance of seasonal movies, “Christmas Vacation” remains unrivaled. There’s no film quite like it, with the unique ability to invoke uncontrollable laughter while soothing the inevitable holiday anxiety. To pacify the hustle and bustle of Christmas is a lofty goal, and this National Lampoon’s classic achieves that feat admirably. Spike some eggnog, put on a fire, and curl up with “Christmas Vacation” dancing across the TV screen.