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The Griswolds: The Best and Worst of Holiday Humor
National Lampoon finds high highs and low lows.
“Its nostalgic look at the season’s chaotic brand of heightened emotions and frustrations is universal for anyone who’s used to entertaining the extended family under one festive roof.” Jared Mobarek, Rotten Tomatoes
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) has recently cemented its place in the pantheon of iconic Christmas films. It’s got just about everything going for it: Chevy Chase in his absolute prime, a crackerjack script by the immortal John Hughes, a colorful cast of side characters including an anchoring Beverly D’Angelo, non-stop soundtrack hits, and a laundry list of ever-quotable lines that includes, but is not nearly limited to:
“Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?”
“Our Father, who art in Heaven. Hallowed by thy name. And forgive my husband, he knows not what he does.”
“If you need any help, just give me a holler, I’ll be upstairs — asleep.”
“Dad, you taught me everything I know about exterior illumination.”
“Worse? How can this get any worse? Take a look around you, Ellen! We’re at the threshold of hell!”
Thanks to its iconic lines and moments, just about everyone on the planet knows Christmas Vacation. It’s ever-present in modern holiday pop culture.
“An insightful critique exploring the plight of the shrinking middle class in post-Reagan suburban communities at the expense of encroaching globalization and billionaire brain poison. In many ways, a movie for our time. Good squirrel bit, too.” Sean Fennessey, The Ringer
For both of you reading this that haven’t seen it, first of all, go watch it right now. Second, you’re probably a little confused. Let me fill you in. Letterboxd provides this synopsis:
It’s Christmas time and the Griswolds are preparing for a family seasonal celebration, but things never run smoothly for Clark, his wife Ellen and their two kids. Clark’s continual bad luck is worsened by his obnoxious family guests, but he manages to keep going knowing that his Christmas bonus is due soon.
The second sequel to the definitive road trip movie National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) follows the usual antics of try-hard, optimistic perfectionist Clark Griswold — the perfect vehicle for a peak Chevy Chase. Chase’s antics since his fall from grace have tainted his reputation and I think because of that it’s easy to forget how great he was. A true pioneer, he’s at his best here.
He’s accompanied by solid performances from the supporting cast: the beautiful D’Angelo as his wife, future topliners Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki as the kids, and a comedy cavalcade that includes Doris Roberts, Brian-Doyle Murray, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, and many more.
The real scene-stealer, however, is Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie.
A fan favorite from the original, Clark’s idiotic cousin-in-law was absent in the second film (and you can feel it!), but returned for the holiday installment. Riding in on fumes from the RV that they live in, Eddie’s family shows up uninvited to crash with (and bank on the generosity of) the Griswolds.
Appearing halfway through the movie, Eddie is a great foil to the Everyman that is Clark Griswold. He serves this function perfectly, that of a side character. Goofy, lovable, and never outstays his welcome.
He really makes the movie. So much so that someone thought it would be a good idea to give him a spinoff.
That’s right. Cousin Eddie, the epitome of side characters, got his own movie. You probably haven’t heard of it, and for good reason.
Though Eddie’s fired right at Christmastime, his boss sends him and his family on a South Pacific vacation, hoping Eddie won’t sue him after being bitten by a lab monkey. When the Tuttle family winds up trapped on a tropical island, however, Eddie manages to provide for everyone and prove himself a real man.
That’s the synopsis for the television sequel that aired 14 years after the original, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure.
Christmas Vacation is second-to-none when it comes to Christmas movies. Heck, even when it comes to all comedy films. And its successor may also be unrivaled: when it comes to the worst sequels of all time.
Eddie’s character works in the Griswold-centered films for one overwhelming reason: he’s not the lead. He doesn’t have to carry the movie. He’s a great sidekick. He’s here for a beer and a one-liner.
When it’s his turn to lead the picture, it gets unbearable. His asinine quips are a great aside in the original. Here, you have to watch them for 83 minutes. And don’t believe for a second that it feels like 83 minutes.
“As awful as it sounds, Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure is complete garbage from start to finish.” Dann M, Rotten Tomatoes
With a lifeless script as a backbone, mix together bad stock sets from other Warner Bros. projects, jokes beaten to death, and any ounce of momentum killed every ten minutes by commercials, the movie never stands a chance. The cast also includes Ed Asner, Fred Willard, and Eric Idle, who all deserve much better. Or do they? They read the script and then signed on the dotted line. Maybe it’s exactly what they deserve.
This holiday season, throw on Christmas Vacation and bust out the egg nog. You’ll laugh until it comes out of your nose. Wait to spike it until the second feature in your lineup, Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure. You’ll need the help.