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Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants to have a fun, old-fashioned family Christmas, no matter what, and while he does have the family there, that is half the problem as nobody gets along and nothing seems to go right for Clark as his expectations are as big as the decorations he uses to smother his house in hundreds of strands of (not twinkling) Christmas lights.
Directed by Jeremiah Chechik, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the third film in the Vacation trilogy, veering off from the established formula of the first two where the family travels to exotic locations and causing mayhem by keeping it mostly in the Griswold home and causing mayhem, though that turns out to be the right move as the film is generally considered to be the best in the series with Chase giving perhaps his career-best performance as the endearing, bumbling dad with a heart of gold that is a bit too emotional but always with the right intentions. A genuinely funny film written by John Hughes, the story is, like many of Hughes’ projects, approachable and with the right amount of warmth and humor that is never over-the-top, but just zany enough to be a great family Christmas comedy.The film is packed with memorable zingers but arguably the best is all about the last straw for poor Clark when it all comes tumbling down and he finally breaks in epic fashion.
It begins when he and his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) invite their parents to join them for the family Christmas and arrive with some unusual behaviors but is nothing compared to cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid), who shows up with his wife and two kids in their rundown, backed-uped, camper van. Clark is undaunted in not letting anything ruin his Christmas spirit (even when the cat chews the tree lights and sets it on fire) spending a lot of his energy in making sure his home is the best looking in the neighborhood (even if it drains the city power supply). But the real problem is his boss, who Clark thinks his giving him a big bonus. So confident in this, Clark has already spent as a down payment on an in-ground pool.
On Christmas Eve however, Clark is stressing because his expected bonus check hasn’t arrived and he’s worried that his plans for summer fun will fall apart. At last, with the entire family gathered around, a messenger delivers an envelope from the boss and with excited anticipation, Clark reveals what he thinks is a check but turns out to be a 1-year membership to a jelly of the month club. While cousin Eddie finds some redeemable qualities to the gift, Clark does not and though he tries to collect himself he lets loose in an epic tirade that culminates in an explosive string of insults and a call for some meds. Quote:
I want to look him straight in the eye and tell him what a cheap, lying, no good, rotten, far flushing, snake licking, dirt eating, inbreed, overstuffed, ignorant, blood sucking, dog kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat assed, bug eyed, stiff legged, spotty lipped, worm headed, sack of monkey shit he is!!! Halleluah!! Holy shit!! Where’s the Tylenol??
The moment reveals the breakdown for Clark, the once seemingly unbreakably optimistic dad who sees everything he’s worked for come to a catastrophic end, and sets up the finale where Eddie gets a chance to shine and Christmas can be saved. It’s a classic moment in a classic film.