Not to be snobbish about it, but as a rule the acting performances in Christmas films tend not to be the strongest. There are of course exceptions (hence this feature), but often the appeal in these films lies in the warm glow of Christmas sentiment, or simple, uncomplicated comedy.
Think young Culkin in Home Alone (or anyone else in Home Alone for that matter), Dudley Moore or John Lithgow in Santa Claus: The Movie, the cute little moppet in Miracle on 34th Street, everyone in Gremlins (grim chimney speech aside) or Will Ferrell in Elf – fine films one and all and excellent Christmas entertainment. But you don’t really ever feel like dwelling on any of the acting.
Well, to show that even (occasionally) shamelessly sentimental films can still bring the quality in acting performances, here is my Top 10 to consider. As always, comment below if there are any you disagree with, or think I’ve left out. Hey, it’s Christmas – there’s room for everyone!
10. Chevy Chase – Christmas Vacation
Okay, this one might court a little controversy, especially compared to some of what has been included above. If Clark Griswold is in, why not Buddy Elf? Good question and in all honesty, not an easy call.
Maybe in another ten years I’ll make the switch, but for now Chase has the benefit of greater longevity and therefore a slightly more enduring appeal. His rendition of Sparky also has a resonance that has affected more and more in recent years as the run up to Christmas has become busier and more tiring as my wife and I work hard to make Christmas special and spectacular for our kids.
Frankly, my wife does the heavy lifting as far as Christmas preparations are concerned, but I really sympathise with Clark’s desire to make it all special and meaningful. Whether it’s trying to get the lights to work, making the collection of the Christmas tree a family occasion, welling up over old Christmas home videos, polishing up his tray-cum-sleigh or dealing with the invasion of countless relatives, Chevy Chase’s performance is a thing of beauty, warm, exasperated, frustrated, bitter and yet at times wholly without guile. Like so many of us, he remembers so fondly the Christmasses of his childhood, loves this time of the year, wants it all to be perfect and gets more than a little stressed on the way through.
Christmas Vacation is one of the great Christmas films and Chase’s performance anchors it all the way through, whether he is taking a loft ladder to the face, trying not to blow his top over the destruction of his tree, accommodating Eddie and his odd brood or venting his spleen at his unexpected membership of the Jelly of the Month Club. As Eddie remarks about said club, this is the film that keeps on giving.