Review: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)


Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik

Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverley D’Angelo, Johnny Galecki

Release Date: 1st December 1989 (UK)

Alongside Gaylord Focker (Meet the Parents), Clark Griswold has to be the unluckiest man in movies. He tries so hard to do right but it always ends in disaster. And we love to watch that. That’s comedy, my friends! The Griswold family are back in this Christmas hoot that will make you laugh and grimace loads.

The Griswolds have a big family get together for Christmas. Accident prone Clark wants everyone to enjoy themselves but things don’t quite go to plan, in fact it’s one disaster after another. To make matters worse, the relatives are an inconvenient pain, his family are miserable and the smug couple next door are far from neighbourly.

John Hughes (Home Alone, Uncle Buck) has written the best of the Lampoon series. It has all the familiar traits of a Hughes script: family oddball, cringeworthy moments between adults and kids and loyalty. His stories are very family orientated and the Griswolds are a tight unit with a hapless protagonist. Hughes has the aptitude to write family issues with a witty take and the slapstick moments have a sense of reality – those Griswold disasters can happen to all of us. A dysfunctional family have enough to cope with but add Christmas and it’s a pressure cooker waiting to explode. Comedy is about the unfortunate situations that challenge us in our everyday lives and putting the humour into them.

It’s easy for a Christmas family film to trickle into sentiment but this one manages to counterbalance the two important elements – comedy and pathos. Clark is a decent family man who only has good intentions. He tries hard to please his family individually and as a unit but sometimes, you just can’t please everyone. You root for him because he believes in things happening by action and attitude.

Chevy Chase is great at acting placid in chaos and chaos in placid. His facial expression tells a thousand words.  From the gormless and gleeful to the I really don’t have a clue look. The family do a good job of playing cumbersome. Beverley D’Angelo is the put upon mortified  loving wife, Galecki and Lewis play the angst teens with some good deadpan moments.  Julia Louis Dreyfus in an early role as the smug neighbour.  And the relatives are like all our relatives, cringeworthy.

Christmas is a time when things can go wrong and they sure do for the likeable Griswolds. Hearty family fun. Mind those tangled up lights.

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