November 29, 2013

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1989
There is probably nobody in Chicago that gets as excited for Christmas as Clark Griswald. He imposes his holiday traditions on his close family who are for the most part supportive, while also putting up with his annoying in-laws and his own parents all under his own roof as one big dysfunctional family.

In 2011 Forbes did a list of the top ten Christmas films. Christmas Vacation didn't crack the list. Is that fair? It possesses a lot of the qualities one is eager for when it comes to a holiday film. Tradition, laughs, positive energy, reinforcing the importance of family. When looking for a satisfying Holiday film, one looks for familiar elements that are relatable and engaging but also light-weight. One would hope that the film makes an impact that becomes repeatedly triggered come Christmastime and become ingrained in our memories.

Does Christmas Vacation get better with age? Actually, not really. In fact, it appears to have grown a bit stale. We need to be honest with the fact that Chevy Chase is not a remarkable actor. He has a limited bag of tricks, which to his credit he does put to use here. But he is more effective as an actor when he a bit more restrained but still goofy, like his role in Funny Farm. It's mostly slapstick here, with a sort of innocent imprudent approach to fulfilling his holiday rituals. His imposing family staying with them for the holidays come off as largely caricaturish. The animation at the beginning of the film seems very out of place. There's not a lot of depth to the characters. But perhaps it's not fair the judge this film so harshly. For what it is, it's good, right? What will history be kinder to? Come twenty years from now, will we all be more inclined to put on Christmas Vacation or Elf? You know what? It will likely be Elf. Although a more modern story, it's one that is more generic and heartwarming with some timeless laughs. Perhaps Christmas Vacation is one of those holiday films that is hard to let go of, but maybe its time to after 24 years. Maybe it's time to put it up in the attic for some time and see what the next generation thinks of it. 

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