'Christmas Vacation': THR's 1989 Review

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - H 2014
Courtesy of Photofest

"Throughout, 'Christmas Vacation' looks like a Norman Rockwell painting as done by one of those what's-wrong-with-this-picture cartoonists."

On Dec. 1, 1989, the third Chevy Chase Vacation movie hit theaters. In the years since its release, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation has become a perennial holiday comedy on television screens. The original Hollywood Reporter review is below. 

In National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Chevy Chase's family Christmas tree is a little full with a lot of sap, much like this movie. But it's a big-hearted fullness and it's a smoothly stirred sap.

Christmas Vacation is a glowingly goofy homage to family holidays. A welcome improvement over the last Vacation foray, National Lampoon's European Vacation, this third outing of the Griswold family is a handsomely wrapped holiday present that should delight family viewers everywhere.

It is said that the Christmas star shines differently for everyone; for Warner Bros., it will shine brightly over the box office.

In this Vacation outing, suburban satirist John Hughes affectionately carves up the foibles of WASP America in this Christmas celebration send-up.

Hughes' savvy screenplay, a warm and toasty skewering of Americana, is a wonderfully off-center but target portrait of the prosperous middle-class lifestyle.

Once again, suburban family man Clark Griswold (Chase) gets all a-dither about a family holiday. As is his sentimental nature, he puts too much emphasis on the production of it. He wants nothing less than a "fun, old-fashioned, family Christmas."

For his dutiful wife (Beverly D'Angelo) and indulgent kids (Johnny Galecki, Juliette Lewis), this means that dad simply goes a little nuts: A trip to the woods for the tree, 25,000 outdoor lights, oversized presents, too many relatives — in short, Chase tries to cram too much holiday cheer into one family dwelling.

In the spirit of anything-that-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong, Christmas Vacation is a tightly bowed story of household delirium. "It is Christmas and we are all in misery," overburdened hausfrau D'Angelo exclaims. Into her well-ordered abode, husband Chase has invited both sets of grandparents, and just when D'Angelo gets them not-so-snuggly bedded down, with no visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, the country cousin (Randy Quaid) and his cock-eyed clan roll in unexpectedly.

Hughes tinsels the narrative trunk with some sparkly oddball character ornaments as well: yuppy neighbors, a horny Labrador, senile in-laws, a gift-wrapped cat and a Scrooge-ish boss. At times, the humor stretches the bounds of middlebrow tastes, but it's hard to knock a scenario that includes the electrocution of a cat.

At his glib and clumsy best, Chevy Chase shines as the bumbling beacon of the suburban dream. With his heart all over his pink and blue pj's, Chase is engagingly tilted. Not surprisingly, Christmas Vacation gets its biggest laughs when Chase reaches into his Santa-sized bag of slapstick goodies.

Credit first-time director Jeremiah S. Chechik for his sure-handed rein on Christmas Vacation's polar opposites of sentimental and satirical sides. It makes for a smooth-sledding comedy.

Among the vacationers, D'Angelo is once again appealing and sympathetic as Chase's overly understanding wife, while Galecki and Lewis are winning as his lovingly tormented brood.

Randy Quaid is a hoot 'n' holler as their ne'er do well relative. The grandparents also hold up admirably during the antics. All four grandparents are individually solid. On D'Angelo's side, E.G. Marshall as a grumpy poop and Doris Roberts as a dipsy meddler; on Chase's side, John Randolph as a wizened codger and Diane Ladd as an apologetic defender.

As Chase's nemesis neighbors, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest are uproarious. With their hideous, black-on-black threads and their haughty, minimalist-style ways, they seem to have wandered into suburbia from the entertainment business. That they're the butt of many gags is the tribute to this movie's decent sensibilities.

Technical credits are all aglow. Throughout, Christmas Vacation looks like a Norman Rockwell painting as done by one of those what's-wrong-with-this-picture cartoonists.