I have an admission to make about “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” It took me a while to appreciate it.
True. And that’s saying a lot. I’m a big fan of “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” the 1980s film in which the now iconic Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) takes his hapless family from Chicago to California for a whirl at mythical Wally World. The movie was based on an hilarious story written by, I believe, Doug Kinney for the late and completely lamented magazine National Lampoon. I used to joke that youngsters with a sense of humor started on Mad magazine, moved on to the Lampoon then graduated into watcihng politicians trawl for votes.
But the followup, “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” was predictably lame. It seemed about 110 percent certain that this holiday version would simply swirl down the same toilet — or in this case, suburban gutter.
The first time I watched, it seemed OK. Some solid laughs. Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) was back as was Beverly DeAngelo. The daughter this time was played by Juliette Lewis — an upgrade. The in-laws, however, were comprised of a stellar cast that includes E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond), John Randolph and Diane Ladd. William Hickey as Uncle Lewis is simply stellar.
On the next viewing, I shook with belly laughs for a solid hour. The third time I watched it was already moving to my must-see list during the Christmas season. Favorite scenes? There are almost too many to count. Selecting the tree, the sledding misadventure, anything involving Cousin Eddie, and lighting the Griswold house all stand out.
For lots of people this is their favorite Christmas movie. And I’d love to hear from folks who have a favorite scene.
It won’t get to No. 1 on my list but it’s probably in the top five. My argument is simple: unlike “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story,” the dozens of variations on “A Christmas Carol” or “Miracle on 34th Street” “Christmas Vacation” isn’t so much a Christmas movie but a parody of Christmas, the expectations of Christmas and Christmas movies in general.
It stands alone.