Why has this become a classic that my family and I watch every year and yours probably does too? Well, there’s the fact it’s a relatable everything-goes-wrong plot as Clark W. Griswold Jr. tries to plan the most perfect Christmas possible…No, that’s not why. The antics and slapstick are goldenly hectic and Chevy Chase is a hilarious dunk of egg nog, and the film is just a load of fun.
The one and only Clark has plans for the best vacation with his family (or a portion of his family) on getting a Christmas tree not from a farm but the real wilderness, decorating with the most lights in the city, or the world, go sledding with his company’s car polish that’s about 500 times more slippery than cooking spray, and celebrate with his yearly bonus from his company that he’s received around this time of year for the past 17 years. Things go a little more than awry when more of his family shows up than he intended, and things go sometimes overboard to the point where Clark can’t stand certain changes.
So, how this movie only got mixed reviews back when it was first released almost 30 years ago is beyond me. It never slows down from its holiday cheer – or holiday laughs for that matter. Not only is it crazily unbelievable enough that no kid won’t crack up, I also think that there’s no adult that won’t relate to the trauma Clark goes through in setting up the vacation for his family. In fact, many kids might as well, because it’s so easy for something to seem horrible when you plan everything to a point. And even so, when things go so bad that Clark’s tree is blown up, the turkey makes a sound like water hitting lava and ends up looking like the inside of a sucked snake egg (I don’t think it’s actually possible for a turkey to look that good on the outside and turn out like that), and his bonus isn’t delivered, he admittedly goes a little understandably psycho. I’ve even memorized the rant he makes to his boss, Frank Shirley, and it’s one of the funniest rants in cinema. Basically, there’s never a moment we’re not in his shoes – except when he gets bonked in the face and falls into the snowy bushes. When that happens, we’re laughing.
I guess what makes it so rewatchable is how daring Clark’s decisions are, and yet they’re played by a grown man with a wife, kids and job. He puts together the lights with a staple gun, cuts down a tree that’s two times too big and yet looks perfect when we first see it glowing and sparkling under some sunshine. And there have been some movies that have tried to recreate the grown-up clown, like Elf or Jingle All The Way. But I think the reason National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a movie my family and I watch every year is that this grown-up clown has the balance of realistic and over-the-top. And so does (some of) the movie.
It’s also the sort of film where upon repeated viewings, you may find out other different things, such as Clark’s Tazmanian Devil mug, the fact that his cousin Eddie and kids are living like savages, or the Walls family from The Glass Castle, and all the somehow delightful swift kicks in the chest their neighbours get. Good thing they’re apparently a couple that don’t have cheer. Merry Christmas everyone!
If you like this, I’d try the Home Alone movies