Thursday, December 8, 2011

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation ( Movie Review)

          National Lampoon was an American hummer magazine sensation that started in the 70’s, each contained many different running comedy sketches (like the Sunday newspaper comics) and would often be advertised with absurd taglines like “If you don’t read this magazine, we’ll kill this dog”, so obviously there was a lot of dark comedy involved. This magazine was so popular and successful that it spawned various things from radio shows, too various recordings, too live theater productions and several different film adaption’s including “National Lampoons Animal House”, “National Lampoons Van Wilder” and “National Lampoons Gold Digger”. But my favorite by far is the 1983 masterpiece “National Lampoons Vacation”. This road trip comedy starring Chevy Chase was simply comedic gold and personally one of my favorite movies. To this day it’s still regarded as one of the greatest comedies of all time and with a hit film there’s bound to be a sequel. Fallowing its success was “National Lampoons European Vacation”, it wasn’t nearly as good as the first but it wasn’t terrible either, there were some funny moments and enjoyment but nothing that fresh or new. Then came the third installment titled “National Lampoons Christmas Vacation”. This was a very rare third installment that manages to stand on its own, both as an outstanding comedy and as a film that doesn’t require watching or even comparing the first two films. Sure the series would continue with “National Lampoons Vegas Vacation”, (which was a really lousy sequel) and an online comedy short film called “Hotel Hell Vacation” that still featured the main cast. But Christmas Vacation was so stand alone that it had its own sequel “Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddies Island Adventure”, which was also a lousy sequel but how often dose a sequel get its own sequel? Well, now that all of that has been addressed, let’s look at the main event at hand and discover why “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” isn’t just one of the most well thought out sequels but also one of the best Christmas movies ever.  
     Based on his short story in National Lampoon Magazine, Christmas ’59, this film goes for both laughs and genuine charms. All the main characters from the first two films are back including Chevy Chase reprising his role as Clark Griswold and Beverly D’ Angelo returning for a third time as the wife Ellen Griswold. The kids Rusty and Audrey are back and played by different actors as usual but this time there ages are switched. In every other film, the brother Rusty is the oldest but in this movie, the sister Audrey is the oldest, what’s up with that? Sense this is the only Vacation film to take place at home, we never hear the classic “Holiday Road” theme song from the others. In its place is a terrific new “Christmas Vacation” theme song, which can really put you in the proper mood for a Charismas special. The opening is a fun little animated sequence of Santa trying desperately to drop off presents at their home but we see the Griswold curse can even have an effect on the Claus himself.
       At first it’s just the four main characters but over the cores of the film, more and more family members come to the house to stay for this crazy vacation. This family is hilarious and they all have their own unique charms. We have two groups of arguing grandparents, a lovable niece named Ruby Sue, the absent minded Aunt Bethany, the enjoyably grouchy Uncle Lewis and best of all is the delightfully stupid Cousin Eddie, played again by the one and only Randy Quaid. He’s such a lovable dufus, he’s so goofy but so innocent at the same time. Eddie has a metal plate in his head and while he goes around smiling and having fun, he’s completely oblivious to how annoying he is to everyone else. My favorite moment of his is when he empties his toilet full of crap from his RV into a sewer full of gas, he looks over at a neighbor and casually says to him “Merry Christmas, My shitter was full”. That cracks me up every time.
       Chevy Chase is just awesome as ever, and it’s probably one of his most unforgettable performances. He’s such a filthy jerk who flirts with other women but at the same time a rather likable father character who wants nothing more than to treat his family to a great holiday celebration. Clark’s on a mission to give everyone the greatest Christmas ever, he get’s 25’000 lights on the roof and is obsessing with getting his bones, so he can put in a pool and we get an amusing little scene with him fantasizing over an attractive woman swimming in it. There are some relatively subtle scenes, like him having a genuinely sweet little conversation with his adorable niece and a very nice bounding scene between him and his father, nothing preachy, just simple and touching. Aside from daydreaming about beautiful girls, I can really relate to having a father like this, simply wanting to treat his family to a good vacation but simply loosing his head in the process and getting overly stressed and angry at all the problems along the way.
     There are plenty of fun running jokes, my favorite is centered around this married couple living next door. There the worst neighbors you could possibly have and there so much fun to hate. Every time something bad happens to them, do to an accident form the Griswold home, you cheer about it! I’ll admit, some of the jokes don’t hold up that well today, like this overly long driving scene in the opening and all those obvious parts with him setting up Christmas lights. But it sure has it’s funny moments, like that hilarious sledding scene. Then there’s this fun little sequence with Clark getting himself locked in his own attic, it’s great! The scene starts with loads of goofy slapstick elements, then as the scene continues, he discovers old family Christmas videos of him when he was a child. It’s all matched to the song “That Spirit of Christmas” and as you watch him view his old videos, it becomes a genuinely touching seen. That’s the beauty of this film, it has all those classic slap stick jokes involving people tripping and falling but unlike most dumb holiday comedies that come out every year, this is very detailed with little things you don’t often think about but always recognize. There’s the father reading “Twas the Night before Christmas” to the family on Christmas eve, the grandparents sleeping on the sofa and people just mindlessly watching other classic holiday movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It’s those little things that really make this feel little a genuine holiday special. I especially love this short like montage of downtown Chicago mixed to the song “Hey Santa Clause”, we see bands in the street, people shopping, decorations and some great cinematography. Another little touch that I really love is how it makes transitions with a calendar, it’s built into a little playhouse and every time we start a new day with the Griswold’s, we cut to this calendar house to see just what day of the month it is.   

       The third and final act of the film is one of the all time greatest climaxes to a comedy and it’s such a joy to watch. It all takes place on Christmas eve and for lack of better words, all Hell breaks loose (spoiler alert). I love how slow and simple everything starts, at first it’s just a poorly cooked meal and then things begin to gradually escalate. A cat gets loose and starts spending it’s nine lives, the tree is set to flames, a squirrel goes running throughout the house with the dog chasing him, a SWAT team is laying siege outside, cousin Eddie kidnaps Clarks cruel boss, Clark goes completely nuts delivering the greatest breakdown monologue in the history of cinema and it’s all happening in one night! I mean sweet spirit of Christmas, can this get any more entertaining?!

      Overall, this is an excellent holiday gem. It may not be as spiritually touching as “Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas)” or as powerful as “It’s a Wonderful Life” but it’s still one of my favorite Christmas movies of all time and is often found on top ten holiday lists. It’s funny, detailed and captures every wholesome Christmas moment you could experience. An excellent stand alone sequel that’s great to watch while wrapping Christmas presents and it disserves to be seen once a year around this time. I give “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” 4 ½ stars.  
                                            Have a Merry Christmas Vacation Everyone!

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