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My Favorite Christmas Movie: Clark, the Herald Angels Sing!

December 24, 2011

You can have It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story; I’ll take National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I didn’t see it when it was first released in theaters in 1989, having been burned by the substandard European Vacation a few years earlier. But I ordered it on a whim when it premiered on pay-per-view (as On Demand was less alluringly called back then) the following summer, and its bittersweet mix of rude bathroom humor and surprisingly affecting sentiment warmed the cockles of my heart. (And who doesn’t love warm cockles?)

I introduced my 15-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter to Clark Griswold’s insane quest for a “fun, old-fashioned family Christmas” this year, via a slightly censored version that aired on ABC Family (counterintuitively, they bleep the word “hole” but not the word “ass”). Although the kids were initially freaked out by the sight of a pre-Community Chevy Chase playing dad to a prepubescent Johnny Galecki—now his time-slot rival on The Big Bang Theory!—they soon got into the Griswold spirit, laughing out loud at addled Aunt Bethany (Mae Questel, the voice of Betty Boop) reciting the Pledge of Allegiance instead of saying grace.

Chase and Galecki aren’t Christmas Vacation‘s only ghosts of sitcoms future: Julia Louis-Dreyfus sports an Elaine-worthy coif as one of the hateful yuppie neighbors, and among the grandparents are John Randolph (the original Frank Costanza!) and Doris Roberts, honing her mother-in-law-from-hell routine a good half-decade before Everybody Loves Raymond. And I’d forgotten the Griswolds’ daughter is played by Juliette Lewis, a few years away from sucking Robert De Niro’s thumb in Cape Fear.

Of course, the fun really begins when Randy Quaid shows up as Cousin Eddie, complete with a broken-down RV, a powder-blue leisure suit and a metal plate in his head. (Little did we know then Quaid would turn out to be even nuttier in real life.) But the beauty of Christmas Vacation is it understands no matter how crazy your family might drive you, there’s no one you’d rather spend time with during the holidays. Okay, except for maybe Mary (Nicolette Scorsese), the department-store salesgirl who becomes Clark’s Christie Brinkley-like fantasy object.

Christmas Vacation was written by John Hughes, who also explored holiday themes in Home Alone as well as the underrated remake of Miracle on 34th Street and the great Planes, Trains and Automobiles (my favorite Thanksgiving movie, not that there’s much competition). How can you not feel a little merry when Clark declares, “We’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f—ing Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse”? God bless us, everyone!

What’s your favorite Christmas movie? Scrooged, anyone?

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  1. Steve Megremis permalink

    I agree with you completely about this one, but that’s not a surprise, given that I learned 25 years ago that we have the same sense of humor. Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie is freaking brilliant. I haven’t seen this in years, so I might have to go out and rent it tonight. I had forgotten about Julia-Lousie Dreyfuss as the neighbor.

    Apropos of nothing, you should write one day about your golf-round interview with Samuel Jackson during Pulp Fiction time. I’ve never forgotten that story.

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