For the record, the vault had selected National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation as the Christmas Day film long before Old Navy resurrected the Griswolds for their holiday commercials. Kudos to them for selecting one of cinema’s quintessential families to promote their holiday offerings; it also serves as a reminder to take a break from the 24-hour A Christmas Story loop every now and again.
As with all his family events, Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) has colossal plans for executing the perfect Christmas with his parents and family. When Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) tells him her folks have also decided to come, it’s all “the more the merrier” in Clark’s eyes. He’s so excited about this particular Christmas because he’s planning to tell Ellen and his kids, Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and Rusty (Johnny Galecki), that he’s using his holiday bonus to finish paying for the swimming pool he’s already ordered. Off to a bumpy start, Clark’s idyllic Christmas worsens once both sets of parents take roost and then goes straight into the gutter with the arrival of his despised cousin-in-law Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his clan. Clark maintains high spirits amid all the stress, but his cheery facade begins to crack under the pressure to deliver the Christmas of his dreams.
As with its predecessors Vacation and European Vacation, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation relies on Chevy Chase to deliver on pratfalls, hijinks and side-splitting hilarity as he transforms from the perfect father and family man into a crazy-eyed lunatic hellbent on attaining just what he believes he’s deserved. The main difference this go around is, instead of encountering a continuous series of hilarious, stress-inducing hurdles while on a road trip, the Griswolds remain home and let the obstacles come at them. In his third at bat as Clark, Chevy Chase once again knocks it out of the park.
Without Chase’s comedic talent, Christmas Vacation wouldn’t be half as funny as it is. In previous films, Ellen and the kids have provided some of the funny moments, but this time around D’Angelo mainly reminds audiences of Clark’s neurotic tendencies and Lewis and Galecki, who portray the latest versions of Audrey and Rusty, are relegated to offering occasional retorts. Even the parents, who are played by notable actors John Randolph, Diane Ladd, E. G. Marshall, and Doris Roberts, are funny mostly because their presence deters Clark from his good intentions. The only character who lends comedic support to Chase’s Clark is Quaid’s Eddie. His disheveled appearance, uncouth behavior, obnoxiousness and general dopiness is nearly a show-stealer.
He never quite tops Chase’s performance, however, because as much as we love to laugh at (and relate to) the catastrophes that find the Griswolds, we also love to see them ultimately overcome. By the end, audiences need to see Clark revert to the loving father who sings carols and embraces his family, as much as we need to see him erupt with rage. Writer John Hughes recognizes that crucial point, and offers up the best and worst of Clark W. Griswold, which for viewers, is the best thing about Christmas Vacation.
Wait… you’re still here? Why are you reading about a Christmas classic on Christmas Day when you could be watching it? Go!