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Christmas Vacation (1989)
National Lampoon's "Christmas Vacation" is a hilarious comedic telling of the tragic yet comical reality of the juxtaposition of holidays and humans, more specifically, family. As the in-laws, immediate family, grandparents, and cousins etc. gather at the Griswold home for what Clark Griswold is determined to make the most memorable Christmas vacation of their life, it is only a matter of time before things begin to go very, very wrong. Let the jolly mayhem of Christmas ensue!
Written by: John Hughes.
Directed by: Jeremiah S. Chechik.
Rated: PG13 for brief language and thematic content.
Tagline: There's nothing like family and the holidays!
Clark (Chase) and Ellen (D'Angelo) Griswold stand precariously by as they await the arrival of their many feuding in-laws. Of course for Ellen's parents, Art and Frances Smith, no one would ever be good enough for their baby girl. Several decades of marriage and two teenage kids later the story is no different and the Smith's grit their teeth as they walk through the Griswold doors prepared to ruffle Clark's feathers at any cost, and act disgruntled at all times. All the same, Clark Sr. and Nora Griswold are only too eager to spend the holidays at their son's house with their favorite grandchildren, Rusty (Galecki) and Audrey (Lewis). Several pinched cheeks and endearing smooches later, the Griswolds prepare to undermine the stagnant air of the Smith's less than exuberant holiday happiness.
While the grandparents have a fun time going at it in the Griswold vs. Smith rivalry longstanding since the marital union of Clark and Ellen, Ellen does her best to entertain the aged party poopers. But while Ellen is attempting to make room for the rest of the expected guests as well as shop for presents, pre-plan holiday meals, and deal with her fighting kids who are fussing over having to share a bedroom for the holidays, Clark seeks solitude and praise in his latest scheme to turn his house into a substitute energy source by stringing over 25,000 lights across the entirety of his home. Many hours and flopped attempts later and Clark is still having trouble getting the lights to turn on, leaving Ellen to pour the Egg Nog for her parents and parent-in-laws while Clark spends several days rechecking lights and enduring several painful mechanical mishaps, including the launching of a huge icicle into his next door neighbors window followed by the obliteration of their latest and greatest stereo system.
Meanwhile the brash uppity modernistic neighbors, Margo (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Todd (Nicholas Guest) Chester, take pains to balk and scowl at Clark's latest Christmas snafu as they prance about the streets in their flashy metallic jogging suits and sip their expensive wine amidst the posh yet sterile setting of their modern art-deco home. Of course their stuffy romantic evening is cut short by the sudden functioning light parade next doors which, with it 25,000 bulb power source, manages to completely flood the Chester home in blinding force, sending the two in a hilarious quarrel and mayhem of breaking glasses, spilt wine, etc.
Adding to the chaos is the entrance of several pairs of aunts and uncles at the Griswold home, including the nefarious primitively socially challenged Cousin Eddie Johnson (Randy Quaid), his wife Cousin Catherine, and their children Ruby Sue and Rocky. And don't forget the latest addition to the Johnson family, Snot the Rotweiller. Arriving in their conspicuous dilapidated trailer, the white trash ensemble unabashedly imposes upon the Griswolds and provokes the greatest of all family mayhem.
As Clark runs about the house attempting to Eddie-proof everything of value before he loses it to the flippant in-law he begins to stress over the absence of an expected annual Christmas bonus. Already having written a check for the installment of a snazzy pool for the spring, Clark is depending on the bonus check to keep his family afloat, both financially, and in water. But to no avail. After a mass destruction of the Griswold home between squirrel chases, electrocuted cats, burnt trees, flooded sewage lines, burnt turkey dinners, etc., the bonus finally arrives. Clark can hardly contain himself however, when he realizes that it is not a check at all, but rather, a year's membership to the Jelly factory. Enraged, Clark's final straw is broken and he snaps, providing audiences with a memorable scene of one man's nervous breakdown provoked by the mayhem and bad luck of the holidays.
Perhaps it was sympathy, or perhaps it was a desire to share a portion of Clark's deserved bonus check, but Eddie decides to kidnap Clark's boss, Frank Shirley, and bully him into providing Clark with his expected Christmas present. Bringing Mr. Shirley back to the Griswold home, which is by now in shambles, Eddie releases the prisoner who is all but completely outraged. As he begins to threaten Clark, Rusty and Audrey come to dad's rescue, as does Ellen, and together the Griswold's pitiful faces, and demolished house, persuade Mr. Shirley into reinstating the holidays bonuses, with a special 20% increase on Clark's personal check. Meanwhile, his kidnapping has set his wife in a panic and she calls the police who by now have barged into both the Chester and Griswold home. Prepared to arrest Clark, the cops are only too confused by Shirley's desire to not press charges. Nevertheless, all exit the home just in time to see a strange flashing light shoot across the sky, which finally convinces Ruby Sue that Santa does in fact exist after all. Yet another believer this holiday season seems to be Clark, who is all smiles as he and his family relish the reality that they will have a pool, they will have food, and they have learned the true importance of the holiday season: family and love.
"Christmas Vacation" is a holiday classic. Its comedic script evokes laughter repeatedly by means of Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid collaboration. Witty one-liners, classic faces, hilarious plot schemes, etc., help this film flow smoothly, producing a sharp, pat, witty commentary that is a testament to the reality of the discordance of family holidays. Between failed dinners, disgruntled relatives, etc., "Christmas Vacation" covers its bases and the laughter arises in the all-to-familiar dejavouz of the mayhem at the Griswold home and its uncanny parallel to every holiday event that brings together large groups of family. "Christmas Vacation" is a must see for the holidays. Just as well, it will make you laugh year round in its classic and brilliantly comedic realism that rings true all to well for audiences of all ages.
Chevy Chase plays Clark Wilhelm Griswold, Jr., the main man and mechanically inept host of the Griswold family holiday affair.
Beverly D'Angelo plays Ellen Griswold, Clark's cautious and concerned wife.
Juliette Lewis plays Audrey Griswold, Clark's cynical teenage daughter.
Johnny Galecki plays Russell 'Rusty' Griswold, Clark's skeptical son.
Randy Quaid plays Cousin Eddie Johnson, Clark's memorable white-trash nightmare of an in-law.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Margo Chester, Clark's pompous materialistic neighbor.
Nicholas Guest plays Todd Chester, Margo's self-involved, conceited husband.