Movie Review: "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: December 1, 1989
Directed by: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Stars: 3 out of 5
One of the classic Christmas tales of all time, the Griswold family is back and funnier than ever. The movie highlights a dysfunctional family and the attempt it makes in order to spend the holidays together without driving each member insane. The events unfold into a humorous film about family love and the stress that Christmas planning can bring.
Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is the leader of the family. Like the previous National Lampoon films, this movie shows Clark wishing to put yet another idea into action. His first goal is to have his extended family stay at the Griswold home and celebrate the holidays together. Along with his wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) and two children, Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and Rusty (Johnny Galecki), Clark is determined to make this Christmas a happy one.
Clark also has other plans. With his company bonus this year, he plans to install an in-ground swimming pool. He has visions of the entire family, neighbors, and friends enjoying the pool during the warm weather. He even fantasizes about beautiful girls swimming in the pool and inviting him to join in the fun. Counting on his bonus, he puts a large down payment on the pool. This overextends the Griswold finances so he begins to get worried as he waits for the bonus to arrive. He visits his boss on Christmas Eve and offers a gift, hoping to serve as a reminder about the bonus. When he arrives at his office, he sees that many others have left gifts. His boss seems to be annoyed, picks up the phone, and ushers Clark to leave. Hesitantly, Clark speaks to a coworker who assures him the bonus is waiting at home.
Meanwhile, his family has arrived and is busy annoying one another. His brother Eddie (Randy Quaid) brings his entire family including the family dog, which has intestinal issues. His brother decides to stay in their motor home in front of the Griswold house. Clark worries what the neighbors will think, especially when Eddie begins dumping sewage from the motor home into the sewage lines. Eddie is also experiencing money problems. He asks Clark if he can borrow money for his children's Christmas. Again, with the anticipation of a Christmas bonus, Clark gives Eddie money. The children have to give up their rooms or share their rooms with the grandpa, which also causes tension and unhappy feelings.
The film leads us through a series of funny events, which could only happen in the Griswold world. Clark is stuck in the attic when the family goes shopping. He spends hours decorating the outside of the home with Christmas lights only to discover they will not light up. One of the grandmothers flips a switch, and the home lights up shortly only to go off just as quickly. The next-door neighbors Margo (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Todd (Nicholas Guest) experience their own problems with Clark, especially when Clark returns home after getting a Christmas tree. The couple is extremely neat and detailed, which completely clashes with Clark's free spirit.
The climax begins when the Christmas bonus check finally arrives by courier on Christmas Eve. Viewers experience the fun and spirit of the holidays while understanding the pains and difficulties in dealing with quirky family members and unexpected events. What results is one of the most famous Christmas speeches known to classic holiday movies.
Chevy Chase is the perfect actor to play Clark Griswold. He brings his sense of humor into the role as no one else can. Chase is well known for his part in the "Saturday Night Live" television show in the late 70s. He is also known for his role as Fletch in "Fletch" and "Fletch Lives" and as Ty Webb in the comedy "Caddyshack," which also stars Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray.
Beverly D'Angelo makes an excellent partner to Chase in the film. Her patient, quiet demeanor as Ellen is the perfect complement to his peculiar character. She encourages him and stands beside him in spite of the trouble he always seems to find. D'Angelo is known for her role in the television series "Law and Order" and her part as Sandra in "The Sentinel."
"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" is a typical tale of the Griswold's. Viewers find that in Clark's life, when something can go wrong, it will. In the end, the family pulls together and gets through the holidays happy and healthy in spite of the twist of events.