Thursday, December 1, 2016


Welcome to our 25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS series where we will be taking a look at some holiday classics each day in the lead up to Christmas. Today we begin with a film that is an absolute staple for the holiday season…NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the third “Vacation” film from National Lampoon and once again finds us meeting the Griswold family, this time at Christmas. The film is directed by Jeremiah Chechik based on a script by John Hughes. It stars Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Juliette Lewis, and Johnny Galecki.

Reviewing a film like this presents a unique challenge. Being such a cultural staple (and one I’ve seen at least portions of consistently every single year) it feels almost beyond me to really express the good or bad with it and assign a grade at the end of the day. Nevertheless, after watching the film in its entirety, I wasn’t blown away by any means. The film certainly has incredibly funny moments (which is the reason we still watch this film every year) but in terms of being a well-constructed film it is more a sequence of amusing sketches rather than a genuine story.

What makes National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation work is that it has something for everyone, from biting dry humor, to “dad” humor, to relentless slapstick. Chevy Chase shines in this capacity and is the actor who really gets the chance to show off his comedic talents more than any other character or persona in the film. He has some great monologues and gets to work across many tones and it really pays off at the end of the day. He is supported by solid biting roles from the family members who are a hoot in and of themselves.

Another thing I think really works, and makes this film what it is, is how relatable it feels. Obviously a lot of it is over the top but, in general, the story feels like the image I think most people have of Christmas and the way things can be for a family with a member who is dedicated to bringing out the joy in a classic holiday setting. This film feels like Christmas which is a hard feeling to embody and I think will be a theme across the classics we’ll be reviewing over the course of this month.

This film is far from great, however. For starters, the editing is atrocious if the goal is to have a complete and coherent story. As I mentioned earlier, the film feels like a series of sketches and it even cuts to an advent calendar to show differentiation between the days depicted in the film. It also cuts out to black several times; each time generating a comedic tonal shift in line with the format of a sketch show. In that context, I think it succeeds, but this is (and attempts to be) a film, and in that sense this editing is a failure.

I will also say that much of the technical filmmaking wasn’t well executed. The camera work is pedestrian at best and the one “action” scene we get in the film has atrocious handheld cam that makes it feel almost incomprehensible. Further, parts of the production look great but then other things look unforgivably lousy. This took me out of the film and made it hard to really invest in the slipshod story we were provided.

In spite of this film’s issues, the positives are adequately strong that I understand this film’s place in the history of holiday cinema and why it is the staple it is. It is a film ultimately designed to be dropped in on at any moment and get a couple laughs before leaving to join your family and friends in your holiday events. I enjoyed this film, but it’s not great by any means if we were looking at this in any other way.

Ryan’s Score: 6.5/10

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