My Alternative Xmas Movie Advent Calendar – Dec. 14th: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

I was initially planning to save this one for the end but, since we’re covering 80s comedies that helped frame my Yuletide experience, this list would not be complete without National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. My stepdad introduced us to this movie almost 30-years ago and it has been a holiday staple ever since. 

Directed by Jeremiah Chechik

Written by John Hughes

Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, and Randy Quaid

Things never go according to plan for the Griswolds and their family Christmas is no exception. As the relatives arrive, things get progressively worse. However, motivated by the anticipation of his yearly bonus, Clark Griswold tries to grin and bear it while he sets his sights on having the most impressive Christmas lights display in town.

When you think of the iconic John Hughes’ movie, this one never really pops up but this is right there with some of his best scripts. This was Jeremiah Chechik’s first feature film in the director’s chair but his inexperience isn’t especially noticeable thanks to Hughes’ influence. The comedic timing hits all the marks and there are some hilarious belly laugh moments throughout the movie even though it’s not as polished as Hughes’ other films. While it’s a little rough around the edges, that’s what gives it its charm. 

This was the third entry in the National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise and Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo had reprised their roles in all three, so there was a definite familiarity and consistency in their character portrayals. More than anything, all the films focus on Chase’s Clark slowly unraveling from the idyllic suburban father figure into something of a raving lunatic but it’s at its peak in this movie. D’Angelo Ellen tries to be the voice of reason but mostly stays out of the way when Clark is spiraling. That dynamic works well but eventually gets explored more in-depth in the fourth movie.

The Griswold children are mostly interchangeable and the honors fell on Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki as Audrey and Rusty for this one. They are both solid but it’s ultimately Randy Quai who steals the show as Cousin Eddie. He’s all the things that Clark doesn’t want to be, but he still manages to have a more positive disposition and that only annoys Clark further. Thankfully, the franchise would explore that relationship further in Vegas Vacation as well. Let’s not forget Julia Louis-Dreyfus is in this too as one of the annoyed neighbors.

Christmas Vacation is one of the more traditional Xmas movies on my list, in that it’s a family comedy that explores the true meaning of the holiday spirit, but it’s through a highly dysfunctional prism and I love it. You can stream it with a Philo subscription or with premium add-ons through Amazon and Sling TV. You can also rent it through video-on-demand services. 

Happy Holidays and watch out for that Squirrel!

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