10 DAYS TO CHRISTMAS: ‘Christmas Vacation’

10. Christmas Vacation (1989)

It’s appropriate that National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation opens with an animated sequence. Not only does it a clever way to introduce the setting and stresses of a Holiday gathering, but it prepares the viewer for the hilarious and cartoonish characters that are soon to be introduced. Each character represents a persona that appears in everybody’s house who attempts to celebrate the Holidays. There is the old grandparents who just want to watch TV, the crazy cousin whose presence puts everyone at unease, the stuffy neighbors who have no Christmas cheer, and the central patriarch who is just trying to hold everything together. The Holidays bring out the emotional extremes in everybody and the characters within this film exhibit the bipolar nature of the season brilliantly.

The Griswold family returns for their third endeavor in National Lampoon’s Vacation series in what is their funniest, most relatable, and most successful comedy. This time they are not departing for a distant land, but inviting their close and distant family members to their own house for a dream Holiday celebration. The easily enthusiastic father is planning a perfectly coordinated Christmas at home complete with giant tree, extravagant lights, and a delicious meal. Inevitably things begin to fall apart as the numbers on the Advent Calendar get lower and Clark’s emotional state gets increasingly unstable.

Of all the classic Holiday movie characters, Clark Griswold may be the one whom I can personally relate to best. Christmas is hands down my favorite time of year thanks in large part to all of the good movies that come out. I get giddy with boyish delight whenever the first snowflakes fall. I begin listening to Christmas music the day after Halloween and have a folder on my laptop with over 15,000 Christmas songs. I adore Christmas decorations and usually break them out weeks before Thanksgiving. Basically, I can relate to Clark’s fervor for the season and the desire that everybody gets their ideal Christmas. Much like Clark, my plans for the Holiday rarely go through as imagined in my head and I can be quick to blame the Scrooges who surround me before realizing any failure was due to my own naïveté.

As much as the characters within the film are cartoonish exaggerations of family stereotypes, it can be painfully hilarious to admit how truthful they really are. Every family has those members who show up to Holiday parties bringing awkwardness with every thoughtlessly delivered word (usually it’s an uncle, for some reason). There may not be any subtlety to Cousin Eddie’s character, but he exists to create awkwardness wherever he goes. There is no need for a character arc, as everything we see is through the perspective of Clark who does not initially realize that Eddie’s (hilarious) insanity may be masking deeper problems underneath.

There is a similar theme that runs through every Christmas movie that specifically relates to family. It does not matter how rough the times get, as long as we have each other and the appreciation that we are not alone on Christmas. Christmas Vacation presents the epitome of that theme as things continually go wrong and Clark cries out “WORSE? How could things get any worse? Take a look around here, Ellen. We’re at the threshold of hell.” However, he eventually does come to the realization that we all must when things are getting us down – some things are just out of our hands.

Chevy Chase has had many memorable roles on film and television, but for me Clark Griswold will always be his most outstanding. Despite his occasional rudeness there is such humanity in his desperation for a perfect Christmas that one can’t help but feel sympathy. Randy Quaid turns in his most memorable performance as the drunken Cousin Eddie and Juliette Lewis is excellent as the constantly annoyed Audrey Griswold.

When the movie is finished, it’s apparent that it is as simple a Christmas story as they come. The point is that Christmas is not about the tree, the lights, the meal, or the presents, but it’s about appreciating being around family and attempting to keep one’s sanity while doing so.

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