Devotees of my blog (ie: Mom) will remember that last Christmas I deftly summarized the plot of the Sesame Street Christmas Special. I did this because—as tradition in my house goes—my brother and I would always watch it around Christmas time. Since I couldn’t be there, I figured I would explain it the way I remembered it. I think it was reasonably accurate. This year, I have turned my attention to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, another tradition in our house. It usually happens with my brother and I watching it, followed by my dad wandering in and joining us. Enjoy:
The movie opens with a cartoon sequence of Santa visiting the fateful Griswold household. A series of punishing missteps lead him to being almost discovered, causing him to flee through the ceiling. I always liked this opening as it reminded me of Home Alone antics: another Christmas classic.
When the actual actors appear, they are riding in an amazing wood-paneled station wagon—the kind of station wagon that a soccer mom would be proud to roll around in during the early 90s. Clark and Ellen singing Christmas carols. After a hilarious altercation with the most stereotypical of rednecks, the car flies through the air and crashes into the lot. The family then sets out to find the most perfect of Christmas symbols: the tree! They certainly find one, but it’s just about 20 feet high. The daughter, Audrey’s eyes freeze so she can’t really see it because it’s so cold. Obviously, I mean isn’t that what usually happens in the cold? I’ve been in Africa so long, I’ve forgotten. Speaking of forgetting, guess what Clark forgot to bring with him…a saw. Flash cut to that majestic wood-paneled vehicle riding off into the sunset with an enormous tree on top, followed by a root ball the size of an industrial washing machine.
Enter the antagonistic neighbors, Todd and Margo: they’re rich, young, sleek, and wear sunglasses at night. Their silver Saab is the perfect accent to their cold, austere lives. Clark comes out of his garage with a chainsaw, ready to cut down the tree in order to bring it inside. What proceeds is probably my dad’s favorite part of any movie ever (and this is a guy who lists Fellini’s 8 ½ as one of his favorite films). What can I say? He’s got a diverse bench of interests:
Todd: Hey Griswold, where do you think you’re going to put a tree that big?
Clark (playfully): Bend over and I’ll show you!
Todd: You’ve got a lot of nerve talking to me like that, Griswold!
Clark (playfully again): I wasn’t talking to you.
[Camera pans to Margo, played by Julia Louis Dreyfus]
Let’s fast forward to Clark at work. He’s worried because he’s putting in a pool for his family and is still waiting on his bonus from his horrible boss. When his boss does walk by, he asks for a report, casually forgets Clark’s name, and then storms off with an army of drones behind him. As they walk by, Clark greets them as follows: “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Merry Christma—kiss my ass, kiss his ass, kiss your ass, Happy Chanuka.”
Clark goes shopping to get some last minute gifts and is found window-shopping a lingerie counter at the mall. The patron is a gorgeous woman and Clark fumbles. What follows is a list of word play he accidentally comes up with: smelling/smiling, blouse/browse, hooter/hotter, nipple/nip, adultery/adulthood. He insinuates that his wife is dead, then divorced, then implies that he has a “yule log” but it’s difficult to tell because it’s such an awkward, bumbling interaction. It is ended by Rus, his child, showing up. Now that’s an act break!
Fast forward again, when the family shows up. Comically elderly and crotchety, they are the perfect companions for the ride to hell that becomes the Griswold Family Christmas. When they come in, pleasant reunions quickly give way to disgusting displays of bodily ailments: draining a pint of fluid from the lower back, a mole that’s changing colors, hemorrhoids, and a painful burr on a heel. I think this is my favorite part of the movie. There’s something so gleefully tragic about it all.
Now if my memory serves me right, Clark tries to light up his house with 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights. It obviously doesn’t work right away because of the wiring and Clark loses his temper by kicking and punching the little plastic Santa in his yard. My dad also loves this part.
When it eventually does work, the town needs to turn on it’s auxiliary nuclear power.
As the camera pans down the line of the whole family marveling at this fantastic waste of electricity, we see Catherine (Ellen’s cousin) and Eddie, her sleazy but bighearted husband. They rolled into town in a dilapidated RV with their two kids and Rottweiler named Snot. Amazing, I know.
I’m going to just going to touch on everything I love about the movie from here on out because this is getting long and I can imagine that if you’ve read this far you’re starting to lose your patience:
Clark uses a new nonstick coating for his sled resulting in slapstick hilarity, Clark gives a gift to his horrible boss only to see it’s the exact shape as all the others he’s received, Clark imagining the pool in the backyard made all that much better by the lady from the lingerie counter, Ruby Sue thinking Clark is Santa Claus and using the phrase “shitting bricks”, Eddie emptying his chemical toilet into the storm sewer (“Shitter was full!”), Eddie casually referencing the Bhopal chemical spill by asking Clark if his company had been the one to kill off those Indians a while back to Clark responding “No we missed out on that one”, Aunt Bethany (played by the woman who did the voices for Betty Boop and Olive Oyl) and Uncle Lewis showing up for Christmas Eve dinner, Aunt Bethany’s dementia resulting in her wrapping her cat and jello mold, Aunt Bethany saying grace by stating the Pledge of Allegiance, the turkey falling apart because it’s so dry, Aunt Bethany’s cat being fried by trying to eat the lights off the tree, Todd’s and Margo’s relationship becoming strained, Clark receiving his bonus which turns out to be a subscription to the Jelly of the Month club, Clark losing his temper, Eddie kidnapping Clark’s boss, a squirrel getting in the new tree that had replaced the one that had been set on fire by Uncle Lewis, and finally reconciliation once the SWAT team smashes through the windows of the house in order to save Clark’s boss. Aunt Bethany sings the National Anthem after Uncle Lewis threw a match in the storm sewer causing a massive explosion that propels the plastic Santa across the sky.
Merry Christmas, indeed.
I spent this past Christmas with my host family from training down in Ipelce. I wanted to go because I didn’t know if I’d have the chance to see them again! It was a great time, very relaxing, just hanging out and drinking dolo. I hope everyone back home had a great Christmas/holiday!