One of the things that separates a four-star movie from one that gets four-and-a-half or five stars from me is the feeling, after a great scene, that better things are still to come. That happens at least three times in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which has rightfully entered the canon of classic holiday movies.
Almost certainly the best of the Vacation series for the sheer hit rate of its gags, the movie also wins because — like its breakout star Cousin Eddie, played by Randy Quaid — its heart is bigger than its brain. Even the buffoonish and insensitive Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) is relatable here, as he tries against all odds to bring his family’s many visiting factions together for a traditional Christmas at home.
As in the other Vacation movies, my favorite part is watching how Beverly D’Angelo (playing the staight-woman, Clark’s wife Ellen) gets the most of her every second on screen. And the large supporting cast, including Mae Questel (née Betty Boop) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (pre-Seinfeld, pre-Veep) is strong, to a person. Recommended. ★★★★½