National Lampoon's Vacation

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                When I first saw Christmas Vacation, a holiday favorite for many, I was not enthused.  Over the years, however, the humor has grown on me and, realizing I know many people like the Griswold family, the movie has become something of an inside joke.  Having finally learned to appreciate the humor in Christmas Vacation, I decided to check out the film that started the series of Vacation films in 1983, National Lampoon's Vacation.

                In the first film of the series, Chevy Chase is Clark Griswold, a hard working man with a dream of a fun and exciting vacation adventure with his family.  He wants to drive from their home in Chicago, Illinois to an amusement park in Los Angeles, California known as Walley World.  Although his kids, Rusty and Audrey (Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron), first suggested a trip to Hawaii, they do enjoy the Walley World mascot, Marty Moose, and his television show and realize that the trip could be fun.  Clark's wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) does not share his enthusiasm about driving all the way to California, but doesn't want to rain on Clark's parade and goes along.

                Things immediately take a turn for the worst when Clark's pre-ordered ride doesn't arrive at the car dealership and the family is stuck traveling in a boat-sized rattletrap stationwagon.  Things get progressively worse when Clark takes the wrong ramp and ends up in a bad section of St. Louis, Missouri.  The locals tag up his car and steal his hubcaps, among other mishaps.  A trip to see Ellen's cousin Catherine (Miriam Flynn) and her husband Eddie (Randy Quaid) proves especially uncomfortable, especially when it ends with Clark taking possession of grouchy Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) and her equally unpleasant dog Dinky...and a bag of marijuana given to Audrey by Cousin Vicki (Jane Krakowski).

                As the trip progresses, Clark manages to accidentally kill Dinky, get pulled over by police, crash the car after falling asleep behind the wheel and deliver a very dead Aunt Edna to her son's home in Phoenix, Arizona, leaving her on the porch when they realize that Normy isn't home.  Despite all the horrors of this trip, Clark is focused on getting his family to Walley World, but once they arrive...well, that's when the real adventure begins.

                While many consider National Lampoon's Vacation to be a classic movie, giving it much higher ratings than Christmas Vacation, I am of the opinion that Christmas Vacation should rank higher.  This film explores the oft disastrous adventures experienced on family vacations, but a great deal of the humor comes from extraordinary things that happen to the Griswolds.  I think Christmas Vacation focuses more on things we have all experienced before, during and after holiday get-togethers (minus the explosions, of course). 

                I'm not a Chevy Chase fan, but I did find him hysterical in this film and his charisma with Beverly D'Angelo makes them a believable married couple.  I enjoy Chevy Chase's portrayal of Clark going through normal antics of his life, but when things go out of control for Clark...well, this is Chevy Chase at his comedic finest.  Randy Quaid is as funny as ever as Cousin Eddie and it was nice to see John Candy in this film as an unsuspecting security guard who starts off terrified, but learns to enjoy the Griswold family and their park adventure.  The whole side adventure that Clark has with the girl in the red Ferrari is a bit lame, but it does represent Christie Brinkley's first acting role, so I suppose it has some significance.  

                All-in-all, National Lampoon's Vacation is a fun watch that will definitely offer up some decent laughable moments.  And it is the first movie in the Vacation franchise.  That being said, if you really want lots of laughs, then you are better off skipping this one in preference to that holiday classic, Christmas Vacation.


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