National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Believe it or not, there was a time when Christmas did not come immediately after Halloween. It is on December 25th, after all. We could all sit back, enjoy the slow progression of the Fall, and prepare our stomachs for the inevitable gorging that comes with Thanksgiving. I know I do. That was the way it was back in 1989 when National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation came out. At least that is how I remember it. But in these wonderful modern times, and in a craze to get people to spend as much money as possible, our economy dictates our calendar and it is therefore appropriate for me to watch it in early November.

If you are unfamiliar with National Lampoon’s “Vacation” series, they focus on the Griswold family, particularly the family patriarch, Clark (Chevy Chase). Actually, if you have seen one of these, you have seen them all, the only difference between them being the people who play the children and their locations. I find none of them funny, aside from the slightest of chuckles every twenty minutes or so. It is a shame, too, because there are many memorable moments (for others) in them that are familiar and loved by so many (for some reason). This being the second, we return to the life of the obsessive-compulsive Clark in his maniacal quest to have a traditional family Christmas. Alright, I am going just going to list the things that Clark does because they all go “hilariously” bad. It is a broken record of slapstick humor. There is the Christmas tree selection; the arrival of the grandparents; going shopping; decorating the outside of the house with lights; the surprise visit of cousin Eddie Johnson (Randy Quaid) in his family’s rickety recreational vehicle (RV); sledding; Clark’s Christmas bonus, earmarked for a new pool; the destruction of the neighbor’s property; and the inevitable disaster that was the actual holiday. Throughout this slog, the main joke seems to be how can Clark hurt himself in such a way that would result in basically having to live at the hospital for any other mere mortals. “Breaking up” the routine of supposedly funny endangerment of life and limb are the psychotic mutterings Clark makes at various moments towards his boss, Frank Shirley (Brian Doyle-Murphy), and his family. At various points he also fantasizes about other women, although what is wrong with his wife Ellen (Beverly D-Angelo) I do not know. She puts up with his truly insane plans, and she is Beverly D’Angelo! Anyway, what finally pushes Clark completely over the edge is when Frank decides to not pay out the Christmas bonus this year. When Clark mumbles something about wanting to see his boss face-to-face to tell him what a jerk he is for being so stingy, Eddie happens to hear this and takes it upon himself to kidnap Frank and bring him to the Griswold residence. All is well that ends well, I guess, as Frank changes his mind when he meets the Griswolds, though I cannot understand why that would do the trick. Thus the Griswolds, Frank and his wife, and half the Chicago police department celebrate what remains of the holiday. As our story ends, Clark claims victory.

Maybe it is because I did not grow up watching the National Lampoon movies, including Christmas Vacation, that I find these films humorless. To underscore this point, National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation (1997) is one of a handful of movies I actually got up and walked out of the theater before it was over. For me, there are fewer more uncomfortable experiences than sitting through so-called comedies and not laughing. Still, if there is anything for which I can commend Clark Griswold, it is his desire to have a traditional family Christmas. Of course, that is tempered when you realize that the one thing missing from the Griswold family activities is Mass, or whatever commensurate service Protestants attend. How easily we seem to have forgotten as a society why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. I mean, it is in the name. At any rate, it is proper to gather family together on the day when Mary and Joseph became the Holy Family with the birth of Jesus. Of course, people watch this film to see Clark do silly things, but he also seems to genuinely care about his own, even Eddie.

I am guessing that if you grew up loving National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, nothing I could say about it would change your mind. And really the only parts of it that would be best avoided are Clark’s fantasies about the Marshall Field’s sales lady. If you can fast forward through that and the pool scene, the rest is okay to watch, if you can force yourself to sit through it.

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