Why National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is Awesome


‘Join the Griswolds for a “good old fashioned family Christmas”, you won’t regret it, but they might’

So the holiday season is upon us, as is the typical seasonal imagery that goes with it: chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost in the air, “the silent majesty of a winter's morn... the clean, cool chill of the holiday air... an asshole in his bathrobe, emptying a chemical toilet into my sewer”. It is exactly this predicament which meets Clark W. Griswold on Christmas morning and is just one of a host of hilarious mishaps to befall the beleaguered family man and star of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989).

This eighties film, starring the irrepressible Chevy Chase as the aforementioned lead Clark, is at the head of my all-time favourite Christmas film list and watching it has now become an annual tradition. The basic premise of the film is of familiar territory and well-worn Christmas plots as Clark hosts his first ever “good old fashioned family Christmas”, for his entire family. As you’d expect from a Chevy Chase comedy, his plans for the perfect Christmas go awry with everything from the Christmas lights, to the cutting down of the tree, ending in ruin. While there are several different antagonists in this film, all of whom stand in the way of Clark’s idealistic vision, the main culprit has to be Clark’s well intentioned (but ultimately disaster inducing) brother-in-law, Eddie (Randy Quaid). Quaid’s turn as the troublesome, beer swilling, Eddie is the perfect foil to Chase’s straight laced patriarch; much of the film’s hilarity coming from misunderstandings between the pair and Clark’s thinly veiled contempt for his relative.

‘Clark considering drowning Eddie in his Eggnog’

As the film progresses, more and more of the Griswold family descend upon the house, bringing with them their own batch of mayhem; yet Clark’s Christmas spirit will not be diminished as he insists they all stay under his roof for the holiday season. His good nature finally erupts upon finding out that his unappreciative boss, who refers to him dismissively as “Grisball” throughout, has decided to replace the Christmas bonus with a year’s subscription to a jelly of the month club. Despite Eddie’s astute observation that “that’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year round”, Clark will not be placated as he’d already used the money to pay for a family pool. In a hilarious rant, he tells his family that should any of them have a last minute gift for him, he wants his boss bringing to him (with a big ribbon on his head) so that he can tell him exactly what he (ahem) thinks of him. In this rant, Chase uses no less than twenty-three barbed insults to describe his boss, an achievement by anyone’s standards. As you may guess, the good-natured but misguided Eddie decides to give his friend the present he desires and obliges his request - needless to say the outcome is hilarious, with the house invaded with swat teams and the distressed wife of the captive.

‘Isn’t it just what you’ve always wanted?’ 

I think what most endears this film to me, and allows it to ward off stiff competition for top place in my coveted Christmas list, is the way in which it perfectly captures the intricacies and pitfalls of family life at Christmas. It encapsulates the underlying unease and stress that often accompanies the holiday season; while we may all hold rose-tinted ideals of what the holidays should be, they often descend into arguments and sly digs amongst family who have only blood in common. Yet this film offers redemption and the light of hope to all of us dreamers who harbour hopes of putting on the perfect Christmas. It reveals the true secret of Christmas: that it exists not within turkeys, presents, or glorious Christmas lights, but within your own heart and soul, and in the company of the family you love, in spite of their flaws. It also makes a holiday hero of the “the last true family man”, Clark W. Griswold. 

‘A contented Clark basking in the holiday glow’

If you have never had the pleasure of watching this excellent festive comedy then, over the coming weeks, I implore you to do so. This is without doubt a ‘modern’ Christmas classic and deserves pride of place amongst everyone’s Christmas viewing schedule. Also keep an eye out for a young Johnny Galecki (of The Big Bang Theory fame) as Clark’s young son Rusty; despite having watched this film more times than I would like to admit, it took the eagle eyes of fellow Awesome Updater Deedsy to spot that one, to my everlasting shame. Other notable appearances include the beautiful Beverly D’Angelo as Clark’s wife, and Juilette Lewis as his daughter Audrey. I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Eddie to a neighbour of Clark’s, upon completing the task that started off this review (the emptying of a chemical toilet into a sewer), “Merry Christmas, shitter was full”. Merry Christmas indeed.

‘Words literally do not suffice’ 

This has been Tomby, festively writing for the Awesome Update. 

Add comment

Security code