Christmas Review: Christmas Vacation
Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, and Randy Quaid
Plot: Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is trying to give his family the greatest Christmas ever. While trying to do so, he runs into all sorts of problems.
This Vacation movie stands out a little more than the others simply because it is really different than the rest. Instead of Clark trying to get them some place, he brings the vacation to them and opens their house to their many relatives including the obnoxious Cousin Eddie. While many of the Vacations are based around The Griswolds experiencing and then leaving behind the problems they face along the way, the problems compound themselves much more when they just stay at home. With this in mind, Chevy Chase better portrays a slow-burn fall into insanity rather than the bent up explosion of emotions we usually see in these movies. That is not to say that the Vacation motifs are not still present. For one, Clark meets an attractive woman over the course of the movie and pretends he has a shot with her. Plus the station wagon is still present.
At one point in the movie, Clark is described by as the last family man. And this is true. Clark wants nothing more than his family to be proud and appreciative of everything he does for them. Chevy pulls this off brilliantly. He gets a bad rap for making a lot of bad movies, but individually, I think he is better than people give him credit for. As Clark, Chevy pulls off a wholesome, good-natured appeal with just the right amount of mania and selfishness to motivate him through the ensuing chaos.
The comedy stems from a mix of physical slapstick and Chevy’s overly expressive face. In most movies, Chevy might be over-acting, but here (and in all the Vacation movies), he parodies the father who tries too hard with a lot of charisma. He has great chemistry with Beverly D’Angelo who plays his wife. The two seem like they have a lot of history. Unfortunately, it tends to be hard for him to earn chemistry with his children since the actors change with each movie. Most would say it is a running joke that they mean to pull off, but I think it does more harm than good. Especially with this one which sees the kids switch ages (the daughter is now the oldest). His extended family plus his boss are a list of archetypes that may not be well-developed but inserted into the movie in just the right way.
The slapstick is really funny as well. For one, a running joke is the torture they put their neighbors through, usually when Chevy’s decorating woes spills over into their yards. A common mistake that many comedies make is putting all their confidence into the literal slapstick to make people laugh. Christmas Vacation gets it right punctuating those jokes with hilarious reactions.
Christmas Vacation is a fine addition to the Vacation series, and while I consider it a Christmas classic, it is certainly on the lower spectrum of the classics. It has its flaws, but it commits to what it wants and powers forward.
EIGHT out of TEN