National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the holiday classic we all need

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the holiday classic we all need

Emma Seely, Managing Editor

As the holiday season draws nearer, it is as good of a time as any to look back on one of the most iconic Christmas movies of all time. The movie in question is the 1989 classic, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Starring Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, a bumbling but ultimately lovable working-class father on a mission to hold the perfect family holiday, this film perfectly captures the absurd chaos of the season. With humor that hits hard, fast and constant, and filmmaking that is exactly as 1989-retro as it needs to be, this little film laps its newer holiday contemporaries. Even in a time of content that is bigger, badder and, in all ways, more, “Christmas Vacation” still manages to hit all the right notes.


What Clark Griswold wants is simple: to have all his extended family under one roof for Christmas. Although the goal seems attainable, the viewer quickly learns that nothing will be easy for Clark for the 97 minutes of the film’s quick runtime. We begin with the Griswold family car getting stuck under an 18-wheeler on the road, tag along as a squirrel gets trapped in the house and watch in horror as a family pet comes to an electrifying end. But even as these hysterical situations escalate in intensity, what’s funnier is watching Chase at his absolute prime react to each misstep. A master of physical comedy, Chase gives every ounce of his being to this performance, turning a concept as simple as setting up a lighting display into something that lands closer to a drunken bar fight with a light-up Santa. He’s constantly going for broke here, and the script seems to be exactly the type to encourage it. There’s no time for a break in the breathless laughter; this is Christmas, people. 


Of course, Chase is far from alone in bringing the laughs. The supporting cast is, to put it simply, transcendent. Filling out the rest of the Griswold unit is Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki ( Leonard from “The Big Bang Theory”), all providing the perfect sarcastic contrast to Clark’s chaotic sincerity. Randy Quaid holds his own as the messy, ridiculous, 

RV-living Cousin Eddie. Mae Questel makes an appearance ( and steals the show) as the senile Aunt Bethany. Even Julia Louis-Dreyfus shows up as a neighbor who is sick of all the Griswold nonsense, successfully showing the reach of the Christmas chaos, and in the process creating a character deserving of Louis-Dreyfus’s talent. 


Even with all these hysterics though, “Christmas Vacation” is, at its core, a family movie, and one about the little guy winning despite the odds. Clark is the everyman father who, despite the mountain of craziness stacked against him, just wants to do something good for the people he loves. Some critics have argued that “Christmas Vacation” successfully functions as a satirical takedown of the upper classes ( if nothing else, watch this film for the almost minute-long, profanity-laced rant Clark goes on against his greedy boss). Whether this is your take away or not, it is clear that Clark is a family man with a heart that wants to do good, even though it’s hard. 


As the years pass, and high budget films and television shows come out daily, it is nice to be able to watch a movie with a simple message, one that just so happens to be presented with just the right amount of insanity. There are endless options for Christmas movies, many of them newer, flashier or more complicated, but nothing has, nor ever will, hit quite like “Christmas Vacation.” In a complicated time with complicated worries, it’s nice to go back a few years and laugh breathlessly at a simple, heartfelt story that has aged like fine wine. 


After all, isn’t that what the holidays are all about?