Stuff I Watch in December: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Happy Holidays and welcome! We are counting down the days until December 25th and, in that time, I will be reviewing each and every Christmas/holiday film I watch during the month. They’re mostly a selection of films in my own library or films and shows that have been recommended to me.

Please enjoy and leave a comment!

And if you missed any of our past reflections, take a look:

Holiday Inn (1942)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
White Christmas (1954)
Santa Claus (1959)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
I Believe in Santa Claus (1984)
Lethal Weapon (1986)
Die Hard (1988)
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
Scrooged (1988)

Our next film is…

WATCHING: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Christmas Vacation

DIRECTOR: Jeremiah Chechik who also directed Benny and Joon before throwing all the feature film directoral goodwill he had when he directed the god-awful British TV series remake, The Avengers starring Uma Thurman and Ralph Feinnes. He was pretty much relegated to directing television shows after that.

WHAT IS IT?: Arguably, the best of the Vacation film franchise and one which humanizes Clark Griswold.

THE PLOT: Clark Griswold works hard for a demanding boss who, unbeknownst to Clark and his workmates, has decided to eliminate his staff’s holy grail: the Christmas bonus. And that’s the main course, served up later, following a multi-course meal of smaller disasters whether it’s Clark’s eternal struggle with getting his Christmas lights stapled all over his house to work or to understand and deal with his wayward brother. Forget the notion of putting in a pool. There are much larger things at play here.

WHAT DID CRITICS THINK?: The fact that this received mixed reviews when it came out is just another indicator of critics not being able to recognize a classic when they see it.

WHAT DID I THINK?: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation has earned its place in Christmas film lore and on many lists precisely because, like “It’s a Wonderful Life” before it (a movie this film pays homage to in more ways than one), the protagonist is an easily relatable everyman put into situations that every single mother and father have been through. In past entries of the Vacation series, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) was little more than a cartoon character, superhuman in his attempts to get from point A to point B, sacrificing his sanity and goodwill for the sake of pleasing his family who thinks he’s insane anyhow.

One of the brilliant things about this movie is that it does give you the requisite happy ending — but it feels so surreal. Is it really the “happy” ending or is it a fever dream? We know damn well the elimination of a Christmas bonus would end in tears, sorrow and the consumption of enough whiskey to fuel a rocket. Christmas Vacation is a film that doesn’t show us what Christmas is, it shows us what we wish it was. it’s no longer Clark Griswold taking on a Moose or parts of Europe. It’s Clark Griswold facing off against the forces of fate and the very universe itself.

And it’s a joy to watch each year.


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