Sunday, December 13, 2009

12 Days of Christmas: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is one of my favorite Christmas movies. I saw when it was released in the theater in 1989. My husband and I liked it so much we finally bought the videotape and later the DVD. We watch it every Christmas Eve with our children. It is one of our Christmas traditions.

The movie is about a man’s dream of having the perfect family Christmas with all the relatives over for the holidays. This is the third National Lampoon movie so naturally the Griswold family’s plans for a big family Christmas will turn into utter disaster.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is hard-working, middle-class businessman. He invents products for a large company owned by a wealthy man. This Christmas, Clark told his wife that he invited all of their relatives to their house for Christmas. Ellen Griswold (Beverly D’Angelo) knows that her husband has high ideals that can rarely be met. She tells him that he sets standards that no family can live up to. The problem is that Clark thinks he can pull this off without any problems. However, we all know things don’t usually work that easily for Clark.

The plot thickens when the two sets of parents arrive. These in-laws do not care for each other and bicker and nag Clark and Ellen. Even Ellen and Clark’s children, Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and Rusty (Johnny Galecki), want the grandparents to leave and suggest they stay in a hotel. Clark wants to make the house beautiful for the holidays. He works all day to put lights all over the house. He gets the whole family to come into the yard to watch as he plugs in two cords to illuminate the house. The house does not light up. Ellen’s father says it was a dumb idea anyway and all go back into the house. Clark’s daughter, Audrey, feels sorry for her Dad and tells him she thinks it looks pretty anyway. Later Ellen figures out why the lights won’t turn on and turns on another switch. The house lights up so brilliantly that the next door neighbors are blinded and trip over each other and fall down the stairs.

One of the key scenes in the movie is when the family decides to go Christmas shopping. Clark is hiding presents in the attic and someone closes the door locking him inside. The family leaves and while they are gone, Clark finds an old film made when he was a child. When he watches the film on an old projector, we see that his family Christmases were not so happy.

There are many memorable scenes that show how Clark’s perfect Christmas is just doomed. One is when Clark doesn’t want to buy a tree, but to find the perfect Christmas tree. He drives Ellen, Audrey, and Rusty into the country and digs up an entire tree. Even Rusty tells his Dad that the tree is too big for their yard. Clark, however, takes the tree into his house, cuts the rope around it. The tree’s branches break the living room windows.

Just as the movie starts to slow down, it gains momentum when Eddie (Randy Quaid) the redneck cousin arrives driving an old RV in which he and his family live. Eddie is pretty dumb, too. He empties the RV's septic tank into the sewage drain in front of Clark’s house. Clark tells Ellen, who replies: “He just doesn’t know any better.”

Clark tells all the relatives he is going to have a swimming pool installed in his backyard and invites everyone to his house in the summer. He plans on paying for it with his Christmas bonus. Clark’s boss has decided he isn’t giving his employees any Christmas bonuses this year. It is cousin, Eddie, who saves Clark in the ending with his big heart and no brain.

The dialogue is sharp and witty with many memorable laugh out loud scenes. One of my favorite moments is when Aunt Bethany is asked to say the blessing at the Christmas dinner. Poor old Aunt Bethany can hardly remember or hear a thing. Her husband yells to her to say “the BLESSING.” Aunt Bethany doesn’t have a clue what he said so she recites “The Pledge of Allegiance.”

Even though Clark’s idea of a perfect Christmas is not realized, the point the film makes is that family is more important than anything. Swimming pools, perfect meals, many gifts, Christmas trees, and a beautifully decorated house are not what Christmas represents. It is about having one’s family together even if they don’t all get along with each other and enjoy their time together.

There are some interesting scenes in this movie that you should look for if you ever watch it again. The scene where Clark’s son is watching TV on the sofa, note that he's watching It’s a Wonderful Life. The house in the home video that Clark watches in the attic is the same house used on the TV show Bewitched. The glasses which Clark and Eddie use to drink their eggnog features the theme park character “Marty Moose” from one of the other Lampoon movies.

This Christmas Eve when you are watching your favorite Christmas movie before heading to bed to wait for Santa Clause think about Aki and her family because we will watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation in our den.


  1. I love this movie. My dad and I used to watch this film together every year. I always think of Clark when we put up our lights.

  2. Great review, Aki! I always thought it was a little disorienting watching the VACATION movies, and Audrey and Russ are always played by different actors. In any case, I much prefer Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki in this film. You mentioned Eddie and his heart being bigger than his brain. I love the scene when Clark says just that (in front of everyone, including Eddie), and Eddie responds, in all sincerity, "I appreciate that, Clark." Very funny! Thanks for the write-up, Aki! I had fun reading it.

  3. One of the things I enjoy the most about the Cafe is hearing how passionately someone enjoys a certain film. "Christmas Vacation" was extra fun to revisit through your eyes, Aki. Thank you for your enthusiastic review!

  4. I have always loved this hilarious take on the Christmas experience. The review accurately highlighted all the salient points and makes me want to even more enjoy this holiday favorite. A great review!

  5. When I first saw this movie, I laughed until my throat hurt. It has taken its place in my Christmas line-up of movies I have to see during the season. Thanks Aki for an entertaining article about this funny film.

  6. Aki, my favorite part is when Clark applies some of his "Food Additive" to the bottom of his kids snow disc. What was in that anyway?

  7. Thanks for a very entertaining write-up, Aki! CHRISTMAS VACATION is my favorite of the Griswold family movies.

  8. I was surfing around and just happened upon this site. This is the funniest movie. I can tell you really like it aki. This is better than any movie review I've read about this movie.