Sweeter and more whimsical than its two bawdy predecessors, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” sees the long-suffering Griswald family actually staying put for once while the chaos comes to them.
This time, Clark is determined to deliver his dream of a big family Christmas with all of his loved ones under one roof and, at the optimum moment reveal his Christmas present to his family: a new swimming pool, paid for by his Christmas bonus.
Of course, this being the Griswalds, nothing quite goes Clark’s way from the moment the film begins. From the choosing of a Christmas tree to setting up the lights outside the house, the film is chock full of the usual Vacation antics and Clark’s quest for the perfect Christmas becomes more frenzied and Quixotic as mishap piles onto mishap.
By this point, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo completely own their characters and while Chase’s well-intentioned clutziness and D’Angelo’s weary patience are broad and light performances, the addition of Christmas to this time round allows them to draw a great deal more pathos from the characters. Chevy Chase, especially, surprises in the subtlety of his performance as Clark in the film’s (admittedly few) quiet moments, such as the family movies in the attic.
It’s a long-standing tradition that the Griswald children are played by different actors in each of the films (perhaps Audrey and Rusty are secretly Time Lords) and for “Christmas Vacation” we get possibly the starriest combo of all: a young Juliette Lewis and an even younger Johnny Galecki, way before “Roseanne”, never mind “The Big Bang Theory”. Randy Quaid also returns as the odious Cousin Eddie, bringing with him his family, his dog, his dilapidated RV and his unorthodox approach to emptying a septic tank.
With great character actors John Randolph, Diane Ladd, E. G. Marshall and Doris Roberts (making her first, but not last, appearance in Craggus’ Christmas Countdown) as the In-Laws and Julia Louise-Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest as the snooty, long-suffering neighbours, this is one star-packed film.
A zany, slapstick comedy which isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is a happy reminder that Christmas is a time for family, but it’s probably good that it only happens once a year!