We’re in the home stretch of the 2017 Christmas in July Blogathon. Starting the beginning of the end is Carl from Listening to Film. As you might have guessed, Carl’s movie reviews focus heavily on the music of the film. He offers a lot of insight so go give him a follow if you don’t already. I first met Carl during the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story episode of the Talking Stars podcast, where we were on guests together. Enough babbling, let’s see what Carl has to say about one of my personal Christmas favorites: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!
Like most families, mine has several holiday traditions. We set up a Christmas tree in the living room. We assemble an old Lionel train that my father has had since he was two years old. And we sit down a couple days before Christmas and watch Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) make an absolute mess of his attempt to have a “fun old-fashioned family Christmas.”
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is such a part of my annual holiday experience that I cannot fathom a year when we didn’t watch it, and unlike some films that grow stale over time, the jokes and the story still works for me like it’s the first time I’ve seen it. Midway through the film, Clark attempts to sneak up into the attic to hide presents. His house has one of the old attic hatches with a chain that you pull to open (my childhood house did as well making this extra funny), and when the ladder swings down and smacks him in the head, I cannot help but laugh. Every. Single. Time.
This is the third installment of the “Vacation” series, which all feature dim-witted but well-meaning dad Clark attempting to have an experience with his family only to have things go terribly wrong. Unlike the other films, the family largely stays home and lets the chaos come to them.
“And forgive my husband, he knows not what he does.”
However, they first must venture out to find the Griswold Family Christmas Tree in a sequence that is one of my favorites in the film. After unsuccessfully trying to get their kids (Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki) to join in a round of Christmas carols, Clark finds himself being terrorized by a couple of redneck drivers. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm to “burn some dust” causes him to lose sight of the fact that a large log truck is trying to pass them as he swerves into the other lane. While it’s a funny visual, I also have to give a shout-out to whoever actually pulled this stunt off (there are a couple shots that are clearly not process).
After trudging through the snow and pulling a giant tree out by its roots, the Griswolds return home, where the majority of the film takes place. Anyone who has ever celebrated a large (or even a small) Christmas with family will recognize aspects of what takes place, but because this is a John Hughes-penned Vacation film, everything is taken to the nth degree. It’s not enough for Clark to put lights on his house, he needs 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights. His efforts to “fart around with his lights” as his father-in-law (E.G. Marshall) puts it go about as well as you’d expect, as he battles an aluminum ladder and his staple gun and then torpedoes his yuppie neighbors’ stereo with a shaft of ice when he rips a gutter off of the house. When the lights finally do light, however, it’s a wonderfully cathartic scene (played to the Hallelujah Chorus, no less). Never mind that the lights are using enough power that smoke comes from the electric meter and the city must kick in the emergency auxiliary.
“Dad, you taught me everything I know about exterior illumination.”
This scene also leads to the surprise visit of Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his family. While the movie has been quite funny to this point, Eddie’s presence kicks things into another gear. With his black dickie under a white sweater, rusting R.V., and a penchant for emptying his chemical toilet first thing in the morning, Eddie is the kind of character Randy Quaid was born to play, and he doesn’t disappoint.
Despite his unrefined exterior, Eddie really does have a heart of gold. Unfortunately, as Clark himself comments on, Eddie’s heart is also bigger than his brain. When a subplot regarding Clark’s Christmas bonus goes wrong (Clark is expecting a bonus check to help pay for a pool he’s installing but winds up with something else entirely), one of the all-time great rants (wonderfully delivered by Chevy Chase) leads Eddie to conclude that the proper course of action is to kidnap Clark’s boss.
This is just the capper on a Christmas holiday that truly does prove Murphy’s law: a cat and the Christmas tree are both incinerated in separate accidents; the turkey winds up desiccated and explodes; and Clark’s replacement tree brought in from the yard happens to have a squirrel living in it. To be honest, this last point is really the only part of the film that I take issue with. The family all react to the squirrel like it’s the scariest thing they’ve ever seen, and the destruction caused by its being there really seems like piling on.
In the end, one of the things I love about this movie is that it, like Eddie, really has a heart of gold. Despite all the chaos and destruction, the family really does come together in the end to have the Christmas Clark has been dreaming about, only with the addition of Clark’s boss, his wife, and the SWAT team that was sent in to diffuse a hostage situation. Despite his faults, Clark really is a loving husband and father, and none of the jokes are mean-spirited (except perhaps those aimed at the yuppie neighbors, but then they kind of deserve it).
This is the kind of comedy that isn’t really made anymore. Despite the toilet emptying scene and a brief sexually suggestive bit, there isn’t the raunchiness or gross-out “humor” that permeates the films of this type that are being made today. Between this and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, John Hughes seemed to have a way of capturing both the potential disasters (and the humor that arises because of them) of the holidays but also the warmth and the spirit as well. As I said at the beginning, this is a movie that I make a point to watch every year.
It wouldn’t be a fun old-fashioned family Christmas without it.
Thanks Carl! I’m pretty sure this movie appears in the blogathon for a review or on a list every year. Talk about consistency! As I said before, Carl and I were part of a discussion about Rogue One, so it should be no surprise that his guest to our holiday party is the lovely Felicity Jones.
Closing out the blogathon later today is my partner in crime and frequent collaborator Kim from Tranquil Dreams. She will discuss some of her Christmas favorites. Favorite what? You’ll just have to come by to find out. You won’t want to miss what she has in store!
Until next time, cheers!