Chevy Chase isn’t as busy anymore as he used to be, but there was once a time when he was as popular a comedic actor as there was. And he also has one of the truly iconic comedy franchises out there, spending the 1980s playing Clark W. Griswold, the consummate family man who wanted nothing more than to have nostalgic vacations with his family. Well, now one of those movies is on Netflix, but not for long. You have until June 1st to catch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on the streaming service. Sure, it isn’t the holidays, but this movie plays any time of year.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation has a very simple premise. Chevy Chase as Clark just wants to gather his family for the Christmas holiday at his house and have it go off in the traditional way. He wants the big tree, the turkey, the egg nog, the roaring fire, and family gathered around celebrating in the Christmas spirit. Sure, the dude dreams big and has a certain picture in his mind for how things are supposed to go down, often setting expectations around events way too high which only leads to hilarious disappointment. And this situation is no different. He wants the Hallmark Christmas holiday, but it’s about to go off the rails.
Chevy Chase is perfect in the role of the everyman who saw one too many Christmas movies and thinks he can pull the same thing off for his family. It’s a noble undertaking and we need dreamers like this in the world, but because it’s a comedy we know that everything will go haywire sooner than later. Things start off with the family heading out to the forest to cut down their own Christmas tree. The plastic version simply won’t do and even the tree lot isn’t an option. Clark wants to experience the holiday, so after a game of chicken on the highway with some rednecks, he gets the crew out in the woods for the tree. Check out the scene that opens the film:
What follows in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a non-stop comedy of errors for Chevy Chase as he tries to throw the perfect holiday. The tree is way too big, his parents and in-laws begin a constant bickering session, his brain-dead cousin and family show up out of nowhere, the Christmas house lights don’t work, his neighbors are uptight sycophants, and he gets locked in the attic. These are just a few of the issues that yield comedic returns during the movie.
At the heart of the film too is Chevy Chase wishing and hoping for that true beacon of the holiday season, the reason we all get up and trudge to work everyday: the Christmas bonus. With it he’s got bit plans for his family and their home. He spends much of the movie, in between nearly killing himself sledding and hanging ornaments, wondering if the payday is coming.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation really has become a holiday classic. Eschewing nostalgia for hijinks, pratfalls, and all kinds of things going wrong. Chevy Chase is perfect as the bumbling Clark Griswold, a role he’s reprising for his third film after Vacation and European Vacation. This one might be the best one of them all, playing during the holidays as a reminder that when we set our expectations too high, the world can be just a bit disappointing in reality. Oh, and it’s also a good idea to lock your ladder when hanging lights and don’t let your cousin deposit his RV sewage down the storm drain.
Joining Chevy Chase in the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is Beverley D’Angelo as his wife, reprising her role from the first two movies. And of course, Randy Quaid is back as Uncle Eddy, an American treasure who shows up out of nowhere in his motorhome. He steals every scene he’s in. A couple of surprises are Juliette Lewis and Jonathan Galecki making appearances as Clark’s kids, roles that shifted throughout the franchise. This was some of the first work for the future stars.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation turned a tidy $75 million at the box office when it first came out in 1989. It performed solidly with critics at 68% on Rotten Tomatoes. But its true gift has been staying power. Though it came out more than 30 years ago, Chevy Chase remains just as funny and relatable in the film now as he did back then. There’s a reason it still plays on repeat every holiday season and that’s because Chase is perfect. It’s not the holiday now, but make sure you check it out before it leaves Netflix.