Photo by Charlotte Turner
Depictions of teens in media run the gamut from beautiful twenty-five-year-olds involved in soap opera plotlines to more accurate examinations of one of the most difficult and transitory times in a person’s life. Although there are plenty of great, interesting, and worthwhile films about being a teenager, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that truly portrayed my high school experience. There is, however, one performance that’s pretty close: Juliette Lewis in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
Now, this is definitely a strange choice. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (and the Vacation series as a whole) is decidedly about Chevy Chase as well-intentioned father Clark Griswold, and his family, attempting to enjoy holidays plagued by misadventure and disaster, not a deep dive into what it’s like to be a teenager. Nonetheless, Lewis’s deadpan but still emotional turn as Audrey, the oft-annoyed teenage daughter of the Griswold family, represents the reality of being a teenager in a way I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Throughout the film, Audrey is put-off by her father’s attempts to have a “fun, old-fashioned family Christmas.” The opening sequence finds the Griswolds trekking into the middle of nowhere to find a suitable Christmas tree, and Audrey’s complaints that her various body parts are freezing is one of the most memorable aspects of the scene. Later, when Clark is attempting to get his elaborate light display to work while the whole family watches him, Lewis’s ‘gag me with a spoon’ imbued delivery of the line “I hope nobody I know drives by and sees me standing in the yard staring at the house in my pajamas” is one of the best lines in the film.
Films about the teenage experience often get this annoyance right. Probably every teenager gets sick of their family, especially with a doofus like Clark for a father. But films often get this wrong by going too far. The anger becomes one-dimensional, and the parents have no redeeming qualities.
What makes Juliette Lewis’s performance so special is that she also goes in the other direction. Despite their flaws, Audrey clearly loves her family. She is supportive of her dad’s ambitious plan to decorate their house for Christmas when her extended family doesn’t appreciate it, and appears to enjoy being with her family, even when they get on her nerves.
It is this element of her performance that feels so accurate to my experiences as a teenager. Of course, I’ve set off on my own in some regards, but not all teenagers are the classic ‘moody teenager who hates their parents for no reason’ stereotype. Believe it or not, a lot of young people like their parents. And even though many unbelievable and ridiculous things happen in this film, Juliette Lewis plays a more realistic character while still being one of the funniest actors in the film.
I see so much of my teenage experience reflected in Audrey because the film doesn’t try to create unnecessary drama out of growing up. Sometimes I’m sick of my family, sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I’m more moody, sometimes I’m just a normal person.