First Time Watching: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is one of those movies that I always avoid whenever I see it on TV. I won’t even watch a second of it, I’ll just see the title and keep going. You can call it a reflex, a spidey sense, stubbornness, or just Paul being Paul.

Regardless, it just feels like an unapproachable movie.

Four days ago, I read a post by my blog friend Becky, who listed her favourite Christmas movies. You know where this is going. She mentioned National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and naturally I said I hadn’t see it, which caused her to tell me to watch it.

After some coercion, I realized the movie would be on TV on Christmas Eve, so I taped it and watched it that night.

Here is how that viewing experience went.

First of all, what even is a “National Lampoon”? I don’t know. Is it a piece of fishing equipment? No, that’s a harpoon. Is it a spoon that doubles as a lamp? Surprisingly, also no.

To Google I went and found out it was an American humour magazine which ran from 1970-1998. After finding that out, I knew right away my instincts were spot on every time I bypassed it on TV.

But it’s Christmas. The season of giving…things a chance. So, I did.

I made a few notes of things that either stood out, or made me laugh, so I’ll use those as reference points instead of going through a complete synopsis of the movie. You’ve probably seen it, anyway.

Clark Griswold drives his family, who evidently weren’t wearing thermal layers, out to the middle of nowhere to search for the perfect Christmas tree, but not before engaging in some road rage on the highway, which I thought was setting the viewer up for a reveal that Clark buries bodies in his spare time.

It wasn’t. I think it was meant to show us he stubbornly carries on with things, even though he should just stop. Then they drove the point home – pun intended – by having him take hours to find a tree.

Clark Griswold: Just Stop

Make the poster.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is in the movie?? This caught me off-guard, like when you order penne from a restaurant and there’s one lonely piece of linguine hiding in there.

It’s like, where did you come from, where did you go, where did you come from linguine-o? I had to make it rhyme, just go with it.

I found out this movie was filmed in March 1989. The first episode of Seinfeld aired in July 1989. Even though this movie came out after Seinfeld, she got the role before anyone had seen her work on the sitcom.

Clark’s wife, Ellen, might’ve had the quote of the movie when she said, “It’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.”

Ain’t that the truth.

Though, I must admit, this Christmas was the least stressful Christmas of my life. Funny how that works.

Clark was obsessed with getting his Christmas lights to work. He had about eight cords plugged into eight extension cords, plugged into a power bar, plugged into a socket, or something.

At what point does the light bulb go on – pun intended – and you say to yourself, “maybe this isn’t worth it.”

I’ll tell you one thing, his family couldn’t care less about him working on the roof and climbing a ladder, all by himself. They abandoned him late at night.

He could’ve fallen to his death, disappeared, and left his robe on the front lawn and they wouldn’t even know who the new Santa is. No wait, that’s the plot to The Santa Clause.

I feel like that whole Christmas lights scene was for the Dads who are tasked with putting up the lights every year and refuse to go in the house until every last bulb is shining.

Then they humble brag about it all winter, making it sound like such a nuisance, when really they just want recognition for being handy.

Clark finally got the lights to work and they were brighter than a solar eclipse. No one was wearing any eye protection. Even the President was looking right at it.

Clark got locked in the attic, while his entire family went out to eat.

His wife almost went back in the house to look for him, but her Dad(?) stopped her and said: “He’s got another car. He can drive. I have to eat so I can take my back pills.”

That line killed me.

Eddie shows up in an RV with his wife Catherine, daughter Ruby Sue, and son Rusty. If Rusty were named anything else, it wouldn’t have fit.

The Griswold family tree was extremely confusing to try and piece together. Apparently, Eddie is Ellen’s cousin. Clark can’t stand him.

Clark is banking on a Christmas bonus from work because he’s already made an advance payment for a pool in the backyard, without telling anyone. And if that isn’t the most 1989 plot point ever, I don’t know what is.

His bonus cheque arrives and everyone gathers around so he can tell them how much money he’s getting. Huh? Who does that?

The “bonus cheque” turns out to be a one year membership to the Jelly of the Month Club. I don’t know what that is, but it seems like the equivalent to the “Get out of Jail Free” card in Monopoly.

Sometimes, you’d rather stay in Jail for three turns, so you don’t have to land on someone else’s property and pay them. Thus, the card is useless to you.

Strategy, kids. Let everyone else land on your properties for three turns, while you just hang out in jail and can’t lose any money.

At one point, Clark is staring into his backyard from the kitchen and imagining the young lady he previously flirted with at the lingerie store, using his pool.

There are many questionable things about Clark. He seems very selfish and narcissistic. Does he even like his wife. Forget the whole does he “like like” his wife? Yeah, we’re taking it back to grade school language. Does he even like her?

Are we sure the movie wasn’t hinting at him having a second life because between the crazy eyes, inexplicable road rage, the desolate forest search for a tree, his excitement for power tools, and the girl from the lingerie store who he fantasizes about while his extended family is at the house FOR CHRISTMAS, I could make a compelling case.

Aunt Bethany showed up and was an immediate bright spot. Not only did she make a joke about passing gas, but she also put a cat in a box and wrapped it.

Later, at dinner, the family wants her to say Grace, but she goes into the Pledge of Allegiance! I was howling on the inside. That was just brilliant.

Initially, I thought she was saying the Declaration of Independence, but I was wrong because I’m not American.

I’m trying to think of what Canadian thing she would’ve recited instead of a prayer, if this were a Canadian movie.

After 27 seconds of brainstorming, I’ve decided she probably would’ve just yelled her Tim Horton’s order, as if she were in the drive-thru.

Catherine “cooked” the turkey and it fell apart as soon as Clark tried to cut it. At first, I thought it was a gag turkey and they were playing a prank because that turkey sprung open like a chocolate orange.

I’m also wondering if that’s where the organizers for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics got the design idea for the Olympic cauldron. Look it up and tell me that’s a far-fetched thought. You can’t.

Alas, no. The turkey was not a joke. It was just overcooked, hard, and bad to the bone, so to speak.

I am #TeamNoTurkey so this didn’t phase me one bit. Serves them right.

In need of a new Christmas tree because an uncle set the current one on fire, Clark cuts down a tree in the front yard.

Again, another decision he makes without consulting his wife. He’s just baiting her into a divorce at this point.

Oh yeah, the tree crashes through Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ window.

Was her window made of sugar glass? A tree shouldn’t do that to a regular glass window.

That wasn’t the first time in the movie when the momentum and force measurements for an object seemed way off. Too many items carried on, picked up speed, or broke on through to the other side, when they shouldn’t have.

This is just me being nit-picky for nit-picky’s sake.

There’s a squirrel in the new Christmas tree which means there’s now a squirrel in the house. Is there a more frightening animal to have in the house? Don’t answer that.

But seriously, squirrels can move. They fake you out with a hesitation and then dart in another direction. Who do they think they are? Randy Moss?

Clark opens the front door to let the squirrel out but, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is standing on the other side and is subsequently attacked. Is there a more frightening animal to get attacked by? Don’t answer that.

And then the dog runs out the door and gets a 15-yard penalty for piling on. Can’t hurt your team like that, you just can’t.

Because not enough stuff has happened, Eddie kidnaps Clark’s boss and gags him. Doing so helps the boss realize that taking away the annual Christmas bonus really hurts families who wish to install a ~$20,000+ in-ground swimming pool in 1989.

I feel like the Griswold’s were loaded with cash, though. Between the electric bill for the Christmas lights, and having to pay for things Clark constantly broke, it kind of ruined the whole “Aw shucks” charade of, “I need this bonus from work to buy myself a luxury.”

They never reveal how much his bonus is worth, but it’s gotta be at least five figures, right? And if it’s that much, then his annual salary has to be a hefty six-figure amount.

By the way, Clark’s boss looked like a shorter Bill Murray. I was trying to convince myself it was him and that Murray went through a growth spurt when he reached middle age, but even that was too far-fetched for me.

Okay, I just Googled it.

THE BOSS IS PLAYED BY BRIAN DOYLE-MURRAY, WHO IS BILL MURRAY’S BROTHER.

This is why they pay me the big bucks to watch movies for the first time. And by “big bucks”, I’m talking about a one year membership to the Jelly of the Month Club.

The last note I made was in regards to the whole police department and swat team swarming the house and breaking through windows like the Kool-Aid Man, just to catch the kidnapper – Eddie.

Where was this energy in Home Alone? The police officers played volleyball with Kevin’s mom on the phone, referring to her as “Hyper on Line 2”.

Overall, I have no clue what the purpose of this movie was, why “Christmas Vacation” is in the title, or how it’s so popular.

What was the vacation? Am I missing something?

Clark Kills Christmas would’ve been a more apt title.

As far as I can tell, there was no plot to the movie. Unless the plot was just one man’s quest to waste money, leaving him with no choice but to rely on a Christmas bonus to purchase a pool.

I was an hour into the movie (commercials included) and all that had happened was the lighting of the Christmas lights.

As it went on, I started to realize that this is the type of movie I’ve always jokingly asked for.

Give me a movie where you just witness a few days in the life of some characters, without extravagant things happening because why would those extravagant things miraculous take place now when there’s an audience?

Get what I’m saying?

I regret ever jokingly asking for that.

By the end, I came to appreciate the movie for what (I thought) it was. That is, a collection of moments that viewers could look at and say, “Yeah, something like that happened when my family gathered for Christmas. I can relate.”

Because that’s how I feel this movie was created.

A bunch of people got in a room and listed all the weird things that happened to them and their family around Christmas.

“Oh yeah, this one year we got a tree but there was a squirrel in it!”

Noted.

“And we always took three hours to find a tree in the middle of nowhere and were freezing by the end of it because my Dad was picky.”

Noted. We’ll start the movie with that.

“One time our cousin showed up in an RV and they stayed in the driveway for a month.”

And so on.

I’m either dead wrong, or 115% right.

It was a movie about nothing, basically. And the thread connecting this movie with the television sitcom that is famously known for being about nothing (Seinfeld)?

Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

So, those are my thoughts. I didn’t hate the movie, but I don’t know if I’d ever willingly watch it again.

Thanks for reading!

Have you ever seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? What are your thoughts on it? Am I right about everything?

About Paul

I think of my blog as an all-you-can-read buffet. There's something for everyone and complimentary mints at the door as you leave.
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14 Responses to First Time Watching: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

  1. I am so glad you watched the movie and did a post on it and I read almost every word!!! (It was long Paul, and I haven’t finished my coffee yet. Please forgive me for skimming a little, its Christmas!)

    My brother likes this movie. And I was just told by someone else “its the best Christmas movie ever” and he let out a very audible gasp over the fact that I didn’t like it.

    I can’t tell you WHY I don’t like it. I’m sure I watched it when I was younger and didn’t appreciate the humour and just held onto that for the last 20 years or so haha! I did it with “A Muppets Christmas Carol” and “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” both of which I watched over the last few days and the muppets is actually ok, but Charlie is just meh and I stand by that!

    I tried to find a copy of this movie on the interwebs but failed aside from having to pay for it. And I just wont do it! So I will take your review and stand by my “ugh its stupid” and carry on with my life!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul says:

      Haha best Christmas movie ever??? Is it the only one he’s ever seen? As for the Muppets Christmas, I don’t think I’ve seen it.

      The comedic parts were fine but there was just a big cloud of “what’s the point of this?” over the whole movie for me.

      Glad I wrote this so you don’t have to pay for it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sabrina B says:

    I’ve never really loved this movie? I feel like I find it more exhausting than funny. I also find most of the characters more “unlikeable” than “flawed” so I just can’t get that invested. But comedy is subjective!

    When it comes to classic Christmas movies, I think I prefer a higher sappiness level than this movie has.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul says:

      On the sappy scale, this ranks very low. I agree with what you said about the characters. Also, he agitated the neighbours for the entire movie and kept breaking their property and they didn’t do anything until the end? Too many elements didn’t make sense to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Paul! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that you and yours are well and staying safe.
    National Lampoon is a comic magazine of sorts. Like MAD Magazine only a bit raunchier. It started at a university with student writers, then it got really got big. Writers included John Hughes (who wrote the Vacation film from a short story he wrote about a trip to Disneyland as a a kid) and Harold Ramis just to name a few. So there is where the films came from. I’m not too fond of all the other Vacation films, only the original.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      Thank you, I hope you had a good Christmas as well! I appreciate the background info on the magazine! I really had no clue and always wondered what “National Lampoon” meant in the context of a movie title.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Becky says:

    I’m so glad I forced you to watch this movie and and threatened our friendship!

    Regarding the “vacation” part, there are a whole series of National Lampoon Vacation movies; the first was “National Lampoon’s Vacation” then “National Lampoon’s European Vacation.” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” and “National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation.” I’ve seen all of them, I think, but the Christmas Vacation one is more popular out of the whole series.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      Okay at least those other titles sound like they actually went on vacation. Maybe Clark should’ve stolen the RV and taken a vacation for himself.

      We’ve entered dangerous territory where you can just threaten me with our friendship, and I’ll be compelled to do something.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. peckapalooza says:

    If you think Clark’s actions/disregard toward his wife are bad in this, you should see European Vacation. Come to think of it… he’s horrible in all the movies. But it is Chevy Chase, so I guess it’s to be expected. I might just love Christmas Vacation as much as I do because I can pretty much quote every line in the movie. And I do a spot on impression of the uncle that burned up the tree. You’ll have to take my word for it, though.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Paul says:

      “He’s horrible in all the movies”…well, at least he was consistent? I have no doubt you do a spot on impression. I feel like I would’ve liked this movie more had I seen it when I was a kid and grew up with it. I think it’s harder to get into a movie this old, this late.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Surprisingly enough Paul, I have never watched this “Christmas” movie and I avoid it every time I see it on TV. I don’t think I’ll ever watch it nor, do I have the slightest urge to. I have watched the grinch twice in the last 2 days. Can’t say that move isn’t a Christmas Classic! Hope you had amazing holidays Paul with lots of seafood on Christmas Eve 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul says:

      Thanks Jenna! Hope you had a good Christmas as well, and have a Happy New Year if you don’t talk before then!

      Yeah, I don’t think I’d recommend this movie. I feel like it would’ve been better had I seen it when I was younger.

      Like

  7. Pingback: The week gone by — Jan. 2* – A Silly Place

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