Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Guilty Pleasure Pick: Holiday Movies, part 2: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989).

As a start to the Holiday Season, I watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation pretty much every year around Thanksgiving time.  The film does a nice job of showing the chaos and family tensions that arise over the holidays.  Set in the Chicagoland (but filmed primarily in California),  Christmas Vacation follows Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his family as they attempt to host the extended family for the Holidays.  The movie moves like a pinball from one disaster to another, but it really doesn’t burden itself too much with a plot.  There are a fair amount laughs, especially if you enjoy Chevy Chase’s bumbling, klutzy shtick.  This is probably the last great performance from him until his recent work on Community.  Christmas Vacation also features before they were famous performances by Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki (Big Bang Theory, Roseanne) as Griswold’s spawn-- Audrey and Russ.  Below are my top five reasons to make Christmas Vacation part of your holiday tradition:

1).  Cousin Eddie’s killer wardrobe.  Whether he’s wearing a short robe and a trapper hat to empty his trailer’s sewer in style, a t-shirt tucked into a leopard speedo for swimming or dressed formally for Christmas dinner in a powder blue leisure suit, Cousin Eddie has a unique vintage style.  His most memorable outfit for me is the see-through white sweater and green turtleneck dickey combo he wears while drinking eggnog from a moose shaped glass (a reference to Wally of Wallyworld from the first Vacation).  Fashion gold!

2).  “We needed a coffin, err... a tree”.  One of the guests at the Griswold Family Christmas is Clark’s Uncle Lewis (William Hickey).  Uncle Lewis is nearing his last Christmas, but has a mean, sarcastic attitude and a penchant for cigars.  When Lewis tries to sneak a stogy in the living room, he accidentally lights up the Christmas tree which is destroyed in a brilliant flash.  Clark flips out, but his grouchy father-in-law, Art, only replies, “It was an ugly tree anyways.”  My favorite part is the lone remaining ornament (a singed retro Santa) falling from the burnt crisp of a tree.  The toasted tree leads Clark to go on a rampage with a chainsaw a chop down a replacement evergreen from his yuppie neighbors’ lawn.

3).  Juliette Lewis as Audrey Griswold.  Juliette Lewis gives a wonderful performance as Clark’s perpetually mortified and sarcastic daughter Audrey.  She’s not afraid to complain about her father’s silliness in driving out to the middle of nowhere to get a Christmas tree, or the injustice of having to share a bunk bed with a her brother (“I have nightmares about what he does when I’m NOT lying next to him.”); but she’s also the first to come to Clark’s defense when her relatives are being a little too harsh.  Juliette Lewis has a flat, sarcastic delivery that rivals Daria.  She’s definitely the most memorable Audrey from the Vacation series.

4).  The Squirrel Sequence.  One flaw in getting a tree from a neighbor’s lawn is that sometimes you get more than you expected.  In this case, a squirrel happens to be inside and interrupts the Griswolds’ Christmas Eve party. Clark's dad hilariously screams, "Squirrel" every time the critter is spotted. But things get really chaotic when Cousin Eddie’s dog Snots starts chasing the thing around.  My favorite part of this sequence is when incensed yuppie neighbor Margot (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) marches over to give Griswold a piece of her mind and gets a lot more than she bargained for when he opens the door.

5).  Clark’s passive aggressive comments. Clark Griswold is definitely not the coolest guy in the world.  He puts so many holiday lights on his home that it literally blinds the neighbors.  He wears Santa Claus ties and he even drinks out of a Tasmanian Devil shaped coffee mug.  So it makes it makes it that much funnier when he passive aggressively mocks other people.  Cousin Eddie is probably the biggest butt of his jokes.  For instance, Eddie asks whether Clark is surprised about his visit, Clark responds, "Oh Eddie...if I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be anymore surprised than I am now." Another time he asks Eddie, "Can I refill your eggnog for you?  Get you something to eat?  Drive you out to the desert and leave you for dead?"