Every patriarch knows the pain of Clark Griswold around the holidays. Trust me. The collision of family, responsibility of family, and the undeniable tension that comes with Christmas. One of John Hughes’ best scripts was Christmas Vacation and over 25 years later, it still has bite left in it. Some heat on its fastball. The movie still plays extremely well, all the jokes zinging like they were written yesterday and the actors buying in with great comic relief.
Most of the actors aren’t working much anymore. Chevy Chase was a movie star back then, but he has the occasional cameo or TV show these days. Randy Quaid’s Cousin Eddie still draws the best moments of the film, but the actor has gone cucko the past decade. Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecko(Big Bang Theory) aren’t exactly sleeping on the job, but they aren’t household names. That’s the jewel of some films. The movie undoubtedly outlasts the cast when it comes to value.
While The Christmas Story and It’s A Wonderful Life carry a certain special place in many movie fans hearts(and for good reason), Christmas Vacation is my gem and go to holiday film. I remember watching it with my dad many times as a kid, reveling in the awkward yet hilarious scenes between Quaid and Chase that draw the true laughs. As I have grown older and started a family of my own, the film has gained reverence and stature. Some things you just don’t understand when you are a kid. Meeting your parents’ expectations. Being a hero to your kids. Having the best house on the block. I see parts of Clark in myself and a lot of him in my dad. At their best, movies are mirror images of real life, especially when you watch them a few times.
The best part about Christmas Vacation was the honesty it depicted in family gatherings. The people you don’t look forward to seeing and the ones that cause your blood pressure to rise. Hughes didn’t sidestep the messy aspects of holiday dinners. It didn’t overdo the sap in the end either, involving cutthroat corporate policies with the strains it puts on certain families and the employees who hang their year end happiness on a bonus and not a jelly of the month membership. Without intention, Hughes created a classic that my son will be able to enjoy.
While Cousin Eddie’s raucous behavior will garner the most laughs, it’s the quiet moments with Clark and his family looking for trees, his comments to his co-workers at the end of a work day and an old man lighting a match next to a large tree with a squirrel in it that resonate. Every time I watch it, I pick up something different and unique.
This weekend, gather the family around and watch Christmas Vacation. Sure, your grandmother will talk about Chase’s roles in other films. Your uncle will register with Eddie’s thought process while he pops open his 15th beer. Your mother won’t understand why a man has to wear a hockey mask to trim a tree trunk. Your son will tell Clark to watch his language. Your dad won’t be able to take his eyes off the supermodel lingerie clerk and guess what, Julie Louise-Dreyfus gets attacked by a squirrel and a dog.
In the end, people will laugh and be glad they took it in. That’s Christmas. Flawed happiness that’s wholesome. That’s this movie. It’s perfect. It has bite, an edge and just enough warmth to keep your eyes from rolling.
One more thing. Don’t watch it on ABC Family. Get the unedited version. Spend the ten bucks at Target. The jokes land hard and right without a blanket attached for landing.