National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Reviewed on 2007 January 3
It’s just not Christmas until I’ve watched this once.
After invading Wally World and wreaking havoc in Europe in the first two National Lampoon Vacation movies, Clark Griswold decides to try something simpler: a nice, quiet, Christmas at home. He starts by herding everyone into the family car to search for the perfect live Christmas tree, with typically disastrous results. This doesn’t discourage Clark — now that he has the tree he can just focus on simpler tasks, such as putting the lights on the house. His family is going to have the wonderful, old-fashioned Christmas they deserve, even if it kills him.
His wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) points out he can’t do anything nice and low-key. He’s a Griswold. Anything other than booking a trip somewhere and letting other people fuss over the holiday trimmings is an invitation to trouble. Audrey and Rusty (Juliette Lewis and Johnny Golecki) don’t think their dad can pull off a peaceful holiday either, but Clark sets out to prove them wrong. Besides, he wants to be at home so he can see everyone’s faces when he opens that Christmas bonus check he’s expecting! He loves his family very much and made big plans for them with that money. The home is a little crowded with the world’s biggest in-house tree and both sets of parents showing up, but no matter. Clark’s parents, Clark Sr. and Nora (John Randolph and Diane Ladd) will be thrilled for their son. Ellen’s parents (E.G. Marshall and Doris Roberts, as Art and Frances Smith) will finally cut him some slack. That extra holiday money will brighten anyone’s day, right?
The entire cast is wonderful, with Randy Quaid returning as Cousin Eddie and Julia Louis-Dreyfus doing a hilarious bit as a neighbor from yuppie hell. It’s also got a nice edge — you can feel Clark’s frustration as he waits for his Christmas bonus. This movie may not be quite as funny as the first Vacation, but it’s very close. It’s much better than European Vacation (what isn’t?) and in a way, I like it better than the original. It’s got more heart, but since it’s a National Lampoon offering it never gets maudlin. For a Christmas movie that alone is a big accomplishment. The crude (but very funny) jokes are nicely balanced by a sweet core. Watch it all the way through and pay attention to Clark’s last three words.
Three chocolate morsels.