REVIEW – ‘Christmas Vacation’

Written by J.T. Johnson


DIRECTOR: Jeremiah Chechik
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Thomas E. Ackerman
WRITER: John Hughes
MUSIC: Angelo Badalamenti

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is a 1989 comedy film that was also the third installment in the “Vacation” film series. It featured the return of Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as Clark and Ellen Griswold as Clark attempts to pull off the perfect family Christmas.

The film went on to make over $106 million on its initial theatrical run.  It has also generated over $34 million in video rental profits. The most enduring aspect of the film’s performance, however, is that since its release in 1989, the film has been ranked as one of the top favorite Christmas films of all time. It can also be seen every year around the holiday seasons.

It all starts when Clark (Chevy Chase) and his family drive out to search for the perfect Christmas tree for their house. This is where the hilarity ensues and never lets up. It takes everything one loves about Christmas and finds some way to screw it up whether it be the search for the Christmas tree or just trying hook up a grand total of 25,000 Christmas lights.

What also makes the film enduring is the reality under the humor. While there is plenty of slapstick comedy throughout the film, the themes are true. Everyone has those certain family members that they would rather kill than love, even on the Holidays. Also, at some point or another, everyone knows those neighbors that are so stuck up that they’re too good for the holidays.

This is what is great about screenwriter John Hughes. He always knows that while the audiences will respond to the comic misadventures of the Griswolds, it would not work if he did not inject that little bit of truth into the film.

It also helps that director Jeremiah S. Chechik has put together a wonderful cast to play the Griswold’s family. D’Angelo has always been great in the “Vacation” films as Chase’s straight man, or in this case, woman. She sees the flaws in every plan he has but she truly loves and supports him even though she may fear for her or her children’s lives sometimes.

Veteran actors John Randolph, Diane Ladd, E.G. Marshal and Doris Roberts are all hilarious in their own rights as Clark and Ellen’s parents. It doesn’t matter if they’re arguing with each other or putting down Clark. Then there is William Hickey and Mae Questel as Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany.

These two show up close to the third act of the film and almost steal the show with their own, oblivious actions. These two by themselves are worth seeing the film.

Then there is Cousin Eddie, played once again by Randy Quaid. His character was missing from the previous film, “European Vacation”, and its glad to see him again when he and his family come into town in their decrepit R.V. As always, like Clark says in the movie, his heart is bigger than his brain.

When Cousin Eddie screws something up, it is because he truly doesn’t know any better. This could be because of the plastic plate in his head. While it’s bad enough that the rest of the family is there causing Griswolds to enter the threshold of Hell, Cousin Eddie is the one that none of them want there but he always leaves behind a great story.

“Christmas Vacation” is a film that is one of those rare sequels that stands out from the rest. No one has to have seen any of the other “Vacation” films to understand this family and what they go through. This is because the filmmakers make this family our own and it’s good to see them every year for the holidays.


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