Saturday, December 10, 2016

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation Is Agreeable Christmastime Fare

It's interesting, with the benefit of hindsight, to see what stuff sticks around in pop culture. On paper, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation looks like the sort of easy cash-grab that'd be as quickly forgotten as it came, an obvious attempt to milk the National Lampoon's Vacation brand a third time after the first movies in this series had done so well. Instead, what they ended up with was a movie that made tidy chunk of change at the box office and ended up becoming not only the most famous entry in the series by a country mile but also one of the more noteworthy Christmas movies of the last three decades.

Everyone wants the holiday season to go as smoothly as possible. No matter what holiday you celebrate, we all want the time we spend our families/friends/pets/etc. to be a memorable one thriving on fun and not chaos. That's exactly what Clark Griswald (Chevy Chase) wants for him and his family this year, a peaceful Christmas that could fit right onto a postcard. But every time he tries to take his two kids and wife on a seemingly normal Christmas tradition (like picking up a Christmas tree for instance), trouble rears its head and problems ensue. As more and more relatives (like Cousin Eddie) arrive to stay at their house for the holiday, the amount of issues present only increase steadily and steadily.

Seeing it for the first time after hearing about it for so many years, I was struck by how grounded National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is. There's plenty of stylized gags, mostly when it comes to dishing out torture upon Clark's neighbors, but most of it's rooted in concepts and traditions for Christmastime that are still done to this very day. It's easy to see oneself getting into similar predicaments just trying to get a simple tree or cook a Turkey or any of the countless tasks you have to do for the Holiday season. Introducing easily recognizable aspects of Christmastime and then bringing in comedic failings into said scenarios also helps play into the innately stressful nature of this time of year, where it can feel like one is never getting anywhere.

Centering the entire movie around various situations that basically amount to vignettes makes the movie sometimes feel episodic, though their entertaining enough to somewhat compensate for that aesthetic. Chase, in his third (of five) turn as Clark Griswald fits comfortably into the role of the guy who constantly wants to fit into the nonexistent "Father Knows Best" archetype only to have his various plans blow up in his face. While the two Griswald kids don't get enough to do, Beverly D'angelo as Clark's wife actually gets some fun moments to spread the Yuletide-themed laughs and Randy Quaid is a redneck scene stealer as the rambunctious Cousin Eddie.

It's quite easy to see why National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is still enduring throughout the years as it stands just three years away from its thirtieth anniversary. Tapping into the chaotic nature of the holiday season is a relatable hook and making a good-natured dad and his family at the center of all that chaos does make for quite the enjoyable watch. In terms of overall Christmas movies, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation isn't anywhere near the likes of all-time masterpieces like It's A Wonderful Life and Elf, but it claims its own plenty respectable niche as a humorous look into the inately disorderly nature of the holiday season.

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