Having driven across the US to visit a closed theme park and tussled with continental Europe for Vacation and European Vacation, the Griswold family decide to stay home for Christmas. Clark (Chevy Chase) wants everything to be just so – the tree, the turkey, the lights – but between his uptight neighbours, his eccentric extended family and an expected visit from his problematic cousin (Randy Quaid) all is far from smooth. Added to that is his anxiety about his expected Christmas bonus, which he is banking on to meet the cost of a new pool for the garden.
Partly because it is a Christmas film and partly because it is just a better film, Christmas Vacation has endured where the previous and later instalments have not (has anyone out there seen Vegas Vacation?). In many ways it is an assortment of clichés all bundled together in Christmas wrapping paper, but that description does a disservice to what is actually a really funny and at times heart-warming tale of a man who just wants Christmas to be perfect for his family.
The set-pieces are legendary. A trip out into the woods to find and cut down the Griswold family Christmas tree is first hampered by getting the car stuck under a logging truck and later by the realisation that the saw has been left at home. The bedtime scene where we discover just how much sap the newly felled tree has on it makes me smile just in thinking about it. Clark also polishes up a metal tray for a quasi-sleigh ride in the snow and seems to break the sound barrier in the process. He attaches what looks for all the world to be several miles of lights to his house and when they are finally lit the rest of the town blacks out until the local power station kicks in the auxiliary generator.
Added to that are assorted explosions, hysterical outbursts, disappointments, pratfalls and one-liners that have become a perennial feature of the Roper household in the run up to Christmas, having been a staple of my teen years and those of my wife before we ever met. Chevy Chase, who has increasingly fallen away from prominence in recent years, is splendid as Clark Griswold, refusing to give in to problems and obstacles until finally melting down in spectacular fashion. Randy Quaid, who has his own problems to contend with at the moment, manages to be incredibly annoying but good-natured and ultimately helpful, but none of the farce ever becomes so absurdly far-fetched as to distract or spoil the atmosphere of festive cheer.
Ridiculous, funny, festive and resonant on all of those days when I’m just trying to get everything right for my wife and kids, it may not be the most emotionally affecting Christmas film out there, nor the funniest, but it is one of the best and most enduring and I commend it to you wholeheartedly at this festive time.