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NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION

1989, Dir. Jeremiah S. Chechik
97 min. Rated PG-113.
Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki.

Review by Noel Wood

#3 on our list of the Best Christmas Movies Ever!

They say that in the world of "Star Trek", there's a rule of thumb when it comes to the movies: The even-numbered ones are way better than the odd-numbered ones. It looks like there's a similar vibe going on with the "Vacation" franchise of films, except in the reverse: The odd-numbered ones seem to outrule the even-numbered ones. Oh, don't get me wrong, I love EUROPEAN VACATION, and VEGAS VACATION has its charms as well, but the original and CHRISTMAS VACATION just truly own the other two in all kinds of ways.

The Griswold family is like a national institution. In some way, we can all identify with them. Clark W. Griswold, the head of the family, idealizes the most ambitious of family men. He has a lovely, faithful wife, and two children who he's immensely proud of. In his every breath, he strives to make sure his family is having the most enjoyable time together possible. Of course, it's hard to keep up with his family when in every movie, the children keep suddenly morphing into entirely different-looking people altogether. One day I'll have to put together an article giving insight on all the Griswold kids, but for now, I'll just do a quick introduction on the two we meet here.

Son Rusty, who in this movie appears to be the younger of the two Griswold kids (the ages fluctuate as much as the actors), is played by "Roseanne" star Johnny Galecki, many years before he started doing the nasty with Darlene Conner. And daughter Audrey this time around is portrayed by Juliette Lewis, long before she affected a really bad and unnecessary southern drawl for all of her roles. In a sense, these are the most successful actors to ever play the youngins of the Griswold clan, as both actually went on to moderate success.

In the other three Vacation movies, Clark takes his family to some exotic locale for some time of relaxation. Of course, it wouldn't be a Griswold vacation if things didn't go afoul. However, this time, instead of a Vacation vacation, the Griswolds get the bright idea to invite the family to their humble home to celebrate the Winter holiday. I guess, after their exploits on the way to Wally World and across the pond, they'da known better than to plan another family trip, so that's why they chose to stay home. But the disasters in those two pale in comparison to the hijinks that ensue during their Christmas holiday.

You see, Clark is one of those fathers who has to outdo everyone else when it comes to Christmas spirit. He needs the biggest tree he can find, and damnit, he'll go 50 miles out in the woods to find it. He feels the need to decorate his home with as many lights as possible, enough to brown out a small city. And he needs to make sure he has the best possible Christmas gifts for his family. The neighbors, however, don't really appreciate Clark's spirit -- or the fact that his exploits seem to keep interrupting their romantic monents and destroying their property.

And then, along comes the family. First, it's just the parents. Clark Sr. and Clark's mom Nora are joined with Ellen's parents Art and Frances. Things don't really get interesting, though, until the arrival of Aunt Bethany and Uncle Louis. Aunt Bethany embodies the batty old lady stereotype. She wraps her cat as a Christmas gift, makes cakes out of kitty litter, and pledges allefiance to the flag for the blessing. She's the best character in the entire movie, trailed close behind by Uncle Louis, played by William Hickey, also responsible for a voice in our #4 movie, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Uncle Louis corrects Aunt Bethany's slips of the tongue, and is at his best when he translates "Let's Say Grace" to "THE BLESSING". And of course, the movie isn't complete until we get the obligatory visit from everyone's favorite redneck, Cousin Eddie. Eddie, his wife Catherine, and their kids pay a visit in their RV, of which Eddie has to empty the septic tank in the sewer one fine wintery morning, spreading the good cheer. "Merry Christmas! The shitter was full!"

Of course, things quickly go to hell. The turkey gets overdone, the cat gets fried on an electric cord, Louis sets the tree on fire, and then the moment that Clark has been waiting for the whole time arrives -- he finally receives his Christmas bonus, and it's an entry into the Jelly of the month club. Clark quickly snaps, tells everyone they're gonna have the happiest Chritmas since "Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Fucking Kaye" and pulls out a chainsaw and trims down the banister. Things really get nuts when Cousin Eddie shows up with Clark's boss in tow, leading the police to raid the home.

There's lots more laughs, including an out-of-control sled ride, an exploding sewer, and of course, the infamous squirrel scene, which leads to the near destruction of the Griswold home. As the tagline says, "Yule Crack Up". This is definitely a must-see for any Christmas season. Lord knows I try and never make it through a December without at least one viewing.

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