Friday, December 23, 2011

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)


Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Randy Quaid
Director: Jeremiah Chechik

"If that thing had nine lives, you just spent 'em all." -Cousin Eddie

Well, it is Christmas Eve and I have decided to celebrate it by reviewing a modern classic and one of my personal holiday favorites.

The third in the "Vacation" series, the film stars Clark Griswold, once again played by Chevy Chase, and the rest of his family as he attempts to put together the prefect Christmas. But as you can imagine, things do not go as planned, and he has to do some quick thinking in order to advert disaster.

This movie is great because it shows what people both love and hate about the Christmas season. On the one hand, you get to admire the tree, the decorations, and the dinners, and to immerse yourself in the nostalgia of your childhood. On the other hand, you have the difficulty of actually getting and setting up the tree, the lights, the dinner, etc. You also have the annoying boss (Brian Doyle-Murray) who acts like a Scrooge and gets in the way of your big present for the year. And, of course, you have the annoying relatives. True, there are Clark's kind parents (John Randolph and Diane Ladd), but they are countered by his condescending in-laws (E.G. Marshall and Doris Roberts) and his absent minded uncle and aunt (William Hickey and Mae Questel, respectively).

Most if not all of us have had to go through these trails and tribulations, and this films lays them all out in the open. Clark tries to manage all of this with a smile on his face, but that smile is a painful one, coupled with a number of snide remarks that seem to slide just enough under the radar to prevent him from getting in trouble. It is the kind of performance that only some actors can pull off, but funnyman Chase is one of them. While his desire for an idealistic holiday borders on the obsessive and at times his sanity seems to be unravelling as quickly as his plans, you can still sympathize with him since we all want to have a great time at this point in the year and are therefore frustrated when it does not work out.

Now I would not be able to do a proper review of this movie without mentioning Cousin Eddie, played once again by Randy Quaid. He is basically the epitome of the relative you wish would not show up for at Christmas (in this case, he was not even invited). He is rude, crude, loud, and a constant headache for Clark. His ineptitude causes much of the problems that plague his relatives and leads to many of the funniest parts in the film. So why he a positive in this flick as opposed to an annoyance? First of all, Quaid (who has done this type of role in other films with mixed results) plays the character to perfection; he is annoying, but "a good kind" of annoying. Secondly, he is not necessarily a bad person. He is genuinely gracious when Clark helps him pay for his own family's gifts and even tries to repay him...granted, in a crazy and highly illegal fashion. Lastly, as I mentioned before, he is relatable. Everyone has a Cousin Eddie in the family, or at least someone similar to him. You cannot help but laugh because you know exactly how it feels.

All that pretty much emphasises the main point of the film. It shows that even during the holidays, life is not prefect, no one within this life is prefect, and the various problems that result from these facts will pop up whether you want them to or not. Still, everyone tries to make the best of it, and with a little bit of luck and patience, they can all still have a joyous time together.

What can I say? I love this movie! It has memorable characters played by a talented cast (many of whom went on to do a number of famous parts on TV and other films), a lot of funny scenes and lines, a great soundtrack (particularly the main theme) and it has enough heart to make it a really solid and entertaining movie for the whole family. Well...kind of. There are some crude parts to it and a lot of slapstick which may turn some people off, especially if they have younger children. But generally speaking, it is very enjoyable. In case you are wondering, I am not going to rank this against the other "Vacation" movies since I have not seen them in a long time, if at all. I am also not going to be seeing or reviewing the direct-to-DVD spin-off "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure" because...it is the direct-to-DVD spin-off "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure." And I do not think I need to because his film stands out just fine on its own.

I definitely recommend it.

Have a Merry Christmas!

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