‘Tis the season, folks. Not only the Christmas season, but also it’s Papa Wilcox’s 60th Birthday. Hi Dad! Happy birthday! To honor the patriarch’s entrance into his 7th decade of existence, I combined the two major seasons and watched a classic of the Wilcox household, the 1989 comedy Christmas Vacation. If you aren’t familiar with Christmas Vacation, I suggest you make a trip to Movie Madness and get to know the Griswold family immediately.
Christmas Vacation is a yearly tradition in our family, which is notable since the Wilcoxes are not huge on repetitious activities. Dad had several sayings that all had the general meaning that “things are never as good as the first time you experience them,” a sentiment with mysterious, unspoken origins. The sheer force of Christmas Vacation, however, overpowered any suspicions of recurrences. In as such, I’ve probably seen Christmas Vacation more than any other movie in my lifetime. My partner, Kasie, on the other hand, has never laid eyes on its glory. This was a situation that needed rectifying, immediately.
Christmas Vacation follows the yuletide exploits of the Griswold family, first introduced in 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, and subsequently appearing in 1985’s European Vacation. (Christmas Vacation is easily the franchise high-point, but the original Vacation is also a classic. Ignore anything after Christmas Vacation, including 1997’s Vegas Vacation and the 2015 sequel-cum-reboot Vacation, starring human-shaped khaki pants Ed Helms.) The basic premise is that Clark Griswold, the family-man father under duress played by Chevy Chase, dreams of putting together the perfect fun old-fashioned family Christmas for his entire extended clan, but just about everything that can go wrong does. And when things go wrong, they go very, very wrong. Christmas tree fires, squirrel invasions, disastrous turkey mistakes and cat food in the jello all factor in, not to mention fried cats, full shitters, and false hopes of plump Christmas bonuses.
Christmas Vacation is too close to my heart for me to even attempt to critically evaluate it, but Kasie, with her critical eye firmly intact, may be able to offer some fresh thoughts on the masterpiece. Here is what she says:
I understand perhaps why Christmas Vacation isn’t Christmas canon (in the vein of A Christmas Story, The Santa Clause, or Elf). The humor in Christmas Vacation is more conceptual than most Christmas cinema. As fitting for its affiliation to National Lampoon, the humor seems to define the parameters of the story’s universe, unlike other festive films that are more informed by “the holiday spirit.” In fact, the humor in Christmas Vacation is nearly edgy, biting, as it combines classical slapstick gestures (patriarch Griswold repeatedly falls, rams into 2x4’s, and finds objects stuck to the pine sap on his fingers) with more contemporary conceptual comedy (Griswold often ends conversations like “Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, kiss my ass” as if the surrounding characters cannot hear him—and indeed, they don’t). Christmas Vacation largely plays to these moments of comedy, leaving the decorations, and eggnog as window dressing. Owing to the John Hughes production, Christmas Vacation also at times loses the holiday for the Hughes. The film is spiked with a Chicago atmosphere and a tinge of nostalgia, but not really in a holiday way. Overall, though I enjoyed the ruckus, I feel like the movie could have committed more to the holidays—maybe that’s why my favorite characters were the yuppie margarita-drinking neighbors.
Well there you have it, folks. A logical and satisfyingly distanced critique of the film. I fully expected my paramour to hate the film (as she does with my other childhood favorite, Pee Wee Herman, but that’s another story) and couldn't be more delighted that she found it alright, although she is cruelly misguided on the yuppie neighbor front. They are such douchebags, even if their main sin in John Hughes’ eyes is lack of amusement and appreciation for the nuclear family and the tidings that it brings.
Anyways, have a happy holidays, and enjoy your well-earned break. I’ll be back in January with my 2015 year-end lists. Can’t wait!