Monday, December 9, 2013

#1,211. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

Directed By: Jeremiah S. Chechik

Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Juliette Lewis

Tag line: "Yule crack up!"

Trivia: Final film of Mae Questel, whose film career began in 1930 as the voice of Betty Boop

I go back and forth as to which of National Lampoon's Vacation films is my favorite: the 1983 original, or Christmas Vacation, the 3rd in the series  released in 1989. Both feature Chevy Case in the role he was born to play: Clark, the over-enthusiastic patriarch of the Griswold clan, and throughout Christmas Vacation his attempts to create the ultimate Holiday experience for his beloved family are thwarted at every turn by pesky relatives, yuppie neighbors, and near-fatal disasters.

After taking a road trip to California and touring Europe, Clark Griswold (Chase), his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and their two kids Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and Rusty (Johnny Galecki, aka Leonard in the hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory) are spending the Christmas holidays at home. 

But, as expected, nothing goes right for the Griswolds; even finding the perfect Christmas tree turns into a fiasco. Things go from bad to worse when the relatives arrive, including an unexpected visit from Clark’s hillbilly cousin-in-law, Eddie (Randy Quaid), who parks his grotesque RV right in front of their house. 

Yet, through it all, Clark remains upbeat, waiting patiently for Christmas morning to arrive so he can reveal a pretty nifty surprise: he’s decided to put in a swimming pool! Of course, if his skinflint of a boss, Mr. Shirley (Brian Doyle-Murray), doesn’t come through with his annual Holiday bonus, Clark has no way of paying for this pool, but even that isn’t going to ruin his Christmas!

As with the first two movies in the series, Chevy Chase gives his all as Clark, whose unbridled optimism throughout is positively infectious. This time around, though, Chase also gets a little help from his supporting cast. After being limited to a brief appearance in Vacation, Quaid’s Cousin Eddie is given a lot more screen time in Christmas Vacation, and very nearly steals the show (in one scene, he tells Clark he had to have the metal plate in his head replaced with plastic because “every time Catherine revved up the microwave I'd piss my pants and forget who I was for a half hour”). 

Also good are Mae Questel (the former voice of Betty Boop) and William Hickey, who generate plenty of laughs as the senile Aunt Bethany and her cantankerous husband Lewis. When asked to say grace at the dinner table, Bethany instead launches into The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance!

With a solid cast of characters and a script penned by the legendary John Hughes, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is more than a great comedy: it is a modern Holiday classic, and like A Christmas Story and Elf is required viewing each and every December.

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