Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation (1989)

Deck the Griswolds

There was once a time when I thought that "Christmas Vacation" was the best of the "National Lampoon's Vacation" movies with scene after scene of Christmas comedy. But that was a while back and having revisited the Griswold's third movie it seemed weak, weaker than I remembered and sadly not as funny as I remembered. The trouble is that whilst writer John Hughes tried to bring together various Christmassy events from decorating the house through to cooking the dinner they don't really link together. So "Christmas Vacation" ends up basically a series of set pieces, each focussing on one element of Christmas and whilst all of them have their humour some are definitely funnier than others. It just doesn't quite come together and so whilst a good movie to put on in the background whilst doing something Christmassy "Christmas Vacation" is not a movie which demands your attention.

Christmas is coming and the Griswolds especially Clark (Chevy Chase - Three Amigos) is looking forward to the festive season as not only is he expecting a large Christmas bonus but also the whole Griswold family are descending on their home for a Christmas family reunion. But of course nothing goes to plan for Clark, Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and Rusty (Johnny Galecki) as between guests who are a pain in the butt and the simplest thing going wrong it's going to be a Grisowld Christmas to remember for all the wrong reasons.

Juliette Lewis as Audrey Griswold in Christmas Vacation (1989)

So as already mentioned "Christmas Vacation" plays out like a series of set pieces as we watch the Griswolds go Christmas shopping, picking a Christmas tree, house decorating and so on. And the thing is that whilst all of these events are part of Christmas they feel like separate chapters which has the knock on effect of making "Christmas Vacation" an episodic movie built around funny scenes. Now there is meant to be some linkage which comes in the form of all the Griswold family showing up at Clark's for a big family Christmas and causing stress and mayhem. But sadly the intermittent arrival of the extended Griswold family ends up being back ground noise which often borders on the annoying.

Of course "Christmas Vacation" is a comedy and so you don't expect that strong a storyline and in a way you could accept the episodic feel if the episodes were all funny. But unfortunately "Christmas Vacation" is a very mixed bag with that feeling of everything being thrown at it in the hope that more of the jokes stick than fail. Now some of the humour works, the whole lights extravaganza as Clark decorates the house is fun especially when it illuminates the neighbours bedroom but then the humour surrounding the relatives often ends up being just noise. It's a shame as some of the jokes are quite funny, usually those which focus on Clark, Ellen, Rusty and Audrey, but with so many characters involved this time around it just doesn't gel.

As for the acting well to be honest Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo slide back into character quite nicely just like a real married couple and it's quite amusing to watch Juliette Lewis as Audrey and Johnny Galecki as Rusty. But sadly whilst there are many other recognizable faces such as Diane Ladd, Doris Roberts and Randy Quaid their characters end up for the most forgettable and whilst repeating myself they do end up as background noise.

The thing is that "Christmas Vacation" is not your typical, sweet Christmas movie yet it certainly has its place in the seasonal roster of Christmas movies. In fact it is the perfect sort of movie to stick on if you just want something to occasionally distract you whilst doing other Christmassy chores but when watched from start to finish its weaknesses reveal themselves.

What this all boils down to is that "Christmas Vacation" is a fun movie but only in parts and suffers because there are just too many characters to deal with. It's a case of it being a movie which you can stick on and then watch bits in-between doing other stuff but it's not a movie which should be watched from start to finish as all its issues and there are a few show themselves and spoil the good bits.

Tags: Christmas Movies