‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ or — Risible, Offensive, Boring and Shit?
My friend was excited about the film he’d chosen for our online, lockdown movie night last night. “It’s a John Hughes film I’ve never seen before and I love John Hughes. PLUS it’s a Christmas movie!”
Oh dear. I was concerned as I’d never seen (because I never wanted to) ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ (1989) which was down to several reasons: I didn’t like the Vacation movies I had seen; I find Chevy Chase unfunny and disconcerting in the extreme and I’m fairly agnostic on Hughes himself, finding his writing tends to go for the quick, easy and crass.
But its Christmas so I thought a little festive brainwashing wouldn’t hurt. And for the first thirty minutes ‘Christmas Vacation’ isn’t THAT bad. It’s innocuous, bland, harmless and inoffensive even if Chase is the embodiment of contained, violent rage behind soulless eyes. It wasn’t making me laugh in the slightest but neither was it bludgeoning me into a depressive torpor. Maybe I can get into the Christmas spirit after all as I watched the Griswold’s get into various incidents.
Then cinematic and narrative rigor mortis sets in when it becomes apparent that this is ALL the film is going to be — a series of various incidents. Now this wouldn’t be so bad if we cared about the Griswold’s (I didn’t as he’s a psychopath and his wife is a hollow void of a person) or if anything that happened was in any way funny or unpredictable, and everything is unfunny and utterly predictable with the film containing such hilarious and not-worn out in the slightest clichéd comedic classics as -
…men falling over, men falling downstairs, men falling off ladders, looking at women’s tits, day-dreaming about women’s tits in front of children, children swearing, sewage, beer, sewage AND beer, annoying relatives, unexpected annoying relatives who unexpectedly announce they’ll be staying longer than expected even though we expected them to say that, men being electrocuted, wigs coming off, fart jokes, animal cruelty, dementia, low-level alcoholism, mistaking saying “grace” for someone called Grace by a deaf elderly woman, men falling off roofs, dogs being sick, domestic violence and mental illness.
Now all this wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the leering, sneering veneer of ‘Christmas Vacation’, because this movie has a particularly shitty attitude to, well, everyone. Most of this is reserved for the appalling, classist snobbery against Randy Quaid’s character who is portrayed as trailer-trash scum simply for laughs. We laugh at him because he is poor! And in America that’s a joke in and of itself. It’s an obnoxious and detestable view, compounded by the typical Hughes habit of idolising the middle class and Reagan-era materialism.
This is why Clark wants his Christmas bonus because despite living in a house large enough to qualify as an aircraft hanger he is filled with resent at both those below him (Quaid and his family) but especially those above him. He seethes with hatred at the “rich”, his snobbery pouring out of him to the extent that you know he’ll go from voting Reagan in the 80’s to Trump in the 2000’s. His plan of curing himself of his pathetic rage is to buy a swimming pool, that most banal symbol of American capitalism. For this he needs his bonus (another trope that was a scourge of 80’s cinema) or how else will he and his family survive?! Not only did I not want Clark to be able to afford to buy a swimming pool but I would quite happily have watched him and his family starve to death on the streets… in the snow… at Christmas.
‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ is a fucking awful movie and my friend was in a state of severe depression by the end, wondering if Hughes had banged the script out in under an hour. There is no drama, no story, no real characters, just a conveyor belt of incidents. It celebrates everything that is repugnant not only about Christmas but America itself with Hughes unable, or unwilling, to satirise any it resulting in a movie that contains no discernible message in the slightest other than — Clark is all of America.
It’s a shallow, sneering, ill-disciplined, badly written piece of jingoistic shit.