Another day, another film written by John Hughes. I didn’t mean for my unadulterated love of the man to dominate my contributions to the 12 Days of Christmas Films. In fact, this submission was supposed to be an exploration of A Christmas Story, and why it’s a religious experience for our American friends but almost completely unnoticed on this side of the Atlantic.
Only I had to turn it off after twenty minutes.
It was just, well, awful. I can see the appeal to a certain section of the American public. It’s a story of a boy who wants to exercise his right to bear arms and buy a gun, and it’s told in the style of a voiced-over flashback to remind everyone that the golden old days were great. You know, when children in China were starving rather than the new owners of the ‘greatest country on Earth’. I received a tweet from @Jook which summed it up brilliantly:
A Christmas Story is kind of like Woody Allen’s Radio Days, except it’s set at Christmas and it’s shit.
So, after turning it off, I did what anyone of my age would do in this situation. I had my own nostalgic moment and remembered a time when Chevy Chase was funny. I watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – directed by Jeremiah S. Chechic and written by the masterful John Hughes.
This is the third vacation we are invited to share with the Griswold family, and Christmas is the perfect time to spend with Clark (Chase), Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), Audrey (Juliette Lewis), and Rusty (Johnny Galecki). The film documents the last few weeks before Christmas as the Griswold family prepare to celebrate with the extended family.
Every single festive film trope and cliché is here, from It’s a Wonderful Life on the television, to the slapstick disaster of decorating the house with festive lights. The turkey isn’t cooked properly; old people cause embarrassment through senility; and red-neck relatives gon’ be redneck. The great thing about Christmas Vacation is it does all of these clichés better than pretty much any other film that has attempted them.
Clark Griswold even seems to be going through some kind of reverse-Scrooge narrative journey – this is a man who loves Christmas, but is essentially visited by the ‘ghosts’ of anti-Christmas (his mean boss, his yuppie neighbours, and his own clumsiness) and his Christmas cheer is tested and pushed to the edge. But despite all this, he retains his demented love of the holiday season.
Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.
Of course Chase is the star of the show, but every member of this cast puts in a great performance, from D’Angelo’s subtle performance as Clark’s long-suffering wife, Juliette Lewis perfecting the sulky teen persona, to Julia Louis Dreyfuss as the Griswold’s up-tight yuppie neighbour. The best foil to Chase’s everyman frustration, though, is Randy Quaid as Clark’s brother Eddie. Eddie is one of those people who says whatever pops into his head, and most of it is comedy gold. He walks a fine line between outright disgusting and oaf with a heart of gold. He is also the source of some of the film’s most risqué humour. Upon revealing he had to have a metal plate in his head replaced with a plastic one, he tells Clark “Every time Catherine revved up the microwave, I’d piss my pants and forget who I was for about half an hour or so.” In fact, for a supposed family film, Christmas Vacation is not only funnier, but actually edgier in places than recent comedies like Ted and The Hangover.
If I grow up to be half the father that Clark Griswold is, I’ll be a happy man.