As I’ve mentioned before, Chattanooga can be a frustrating place to live for a film fan. The close proximity of Nashville and Atlanta makes it so that we never get the good films when they open. We haven’t seen “Hitchcock” in local theaters yet, “The Sessions” was at The Rave for a week before it vanished to make room for more kid’s movies, and “Zero Dark Thirty” is nowhere to be found, despite being released widely on Dec. 19.
So instead of one of the most talked about movies of the year opening in the Scenic City, we get “The Guilt Trip,” a film starring Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand about an overbearing Jewish mother and a henpecked adult son. As it’s the holiday season, I can’t afford much, and spending even the matinee price of $7.75 to see a formulaic comedy made for people who like Streisand is not my idea of fiscal responsibility. It’s important for a discerning moviegoer to know when to throw in the towel and stay home. This week is a good candidate. However, if you do want to see a movie this week, why not head over to Carmike East Ridge (formerly The Rave) and see something older, and funnier, and classic: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
Almost everyone has seen the film—much like other classic Christmas films like A” Christmas Story,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “Die Hard,” “Christmas Vacation” is almost always playing on one channel or another during the season. It’s the story of hapless Clark Griswold, his wife Ellen, and a rotating cast of family members, including the quintessential white trash cousin Eddie, as they try to have the elusive perfect family Christmas. It’s based on the John Hughes short story, “Christmas ’59,” and contains all of the elements that worked in the first “Vacation” film, but doesn’t try to reinvent the franchise.
Arguably, “Christmas Vacation” is better than “Vacation,” as it brings all of the chaos of vacation into the Griswold’s house, meaning that no one, not even the slimy neighbors, can escape from Clark’s merrymaking. The “Vacation” films are about how horrible family togetherness can be; sometimes sharing in the misery of the event is the only way to cope with the perfect storm of arguments and disappointment we’ve all come to expect from each other.
Whether it’s Aunt Bethany reciting the Pledge of Allegiance while saying Grace and wrapping up her cat as a present, or Cousin Eddie being out of work for seven years and not having any presents for his kids, or the electric meter on the house spinning wildly whenever the Christmas lights are on, there is something in this film that everyone can relate to. This is what makes good comedy—the audience understands it, it’s simple and plausible, and it’s executed well. Most of us have someone in our lives that is like one of these people, be it Clark Griswold or crusty Uncle Lewis. Much of the film is an exaggeration of course, but the exaggeration is only slight—the absurdity is only enough to make us laugh and not enough to make us disbelieve.
This week, rather than wasting your time on a poorly reviewed, rehashed new comedy, watch something that has stood the test of time. Show Hollywood that Chattanooga demands quality films, and if they aren’t going to release them here, we’ll be more than happy to watch something that was released 23 years ago. I can promise you that you’ll enjoy the experience more. If you have kids who haven’t seen “Christmas Vacation,” seeing it in the theater will only enhance their experience. Maybe you’ll even capture some of those important Christmas memories that Clark is forever seeking. Merry Christmas, folks.