Christmas Vacation (1989)

It’s almost December, it’s snowing, and I’m in the mood for a holiday film or two. The reviews for Bad Santa 2 are not encouraging (“Bad Santa 2” is vulgar, nasty and offensive, but it has flawed aspects also) so it’s time to look at the classics. My list of holiday classics includes the delightful Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Carol (1951, must be watched in black and white).

My list does not include It’s a Wonderful Life – it’s no more a Christmas movie than Die Hard, and there are many reasons to dislike it. It was panned when it opened, by both the New Yorker and the New York Times, though arguably neither publication appreciates small town life. Here’s a slightly more recent critical review, which focuses on the problematic Pottersville sequence.

Another personal holiday classic is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s sweeter and more sentimental (relatively) than the original Vacation film, as benefits a family holiday film. While Vacation is a mock heroic quest, Christmas Vacation is structured like a classical Greek old comedy, complete with all the rivals on stage for the big final number. Since the big final number is singing the American anthem, that probably would have been cut by Canadian censors in the 1920s and 1930, as they were sensitive to gratuitous displays of American patriotism. And what did the censors, now classifiers, think of this film in 1989? Can it be called a family holiday film?

Classification agencies usually have web sites that provide details about films’ ratings, but of course these sites did not exist in 1989, and while most agencies have put their old records online, they either did not capture additional details, or have not put those online. With the ability to post information about film ratings online, most agencies now provide a lot more information about the film, and how the rating was determined. However, the actual ratings for older films are available, and for most of Canada, Christmas Vacation is PG. Quebec, as usual, is  more liberal, giving a G rating, although there is no PG in Quebec. The Maritimes have the stricter 14A. The Americans are somewhere in the middle, at PG-13. That’s stricter than PG, but without the legal restriction of the 14A.  The few international ratings I found are similar, and the one noted concern is language. It’s worth noting that the ratings for Christmas Vacation are generally lower than the ratings for Vacation.

Most agencies do not state if ratings change, so it’s possible these are not the original ratings. Also, some agencies re-rate films when they come out on video, and some do not.

The British ratings are interesting case. In 1990, they gave the home video a PG rating. In 1998, a 2 second cut was required to keep that rating. This is the opposite of traditional ratings creep, a well documented tendency for the same classification to gradually allow more challenging material. A 2013 version, with additional material and commentary, is rated 12, meaning no one under 12 may rent or purchase. (BBFC does not use adult accompaniment ratings for home video, but if this was a theatrical release, the rating would be 12A, meaning adult accompaniment required for children under 12). Other agencies also request or suggest cuts to obtain a specific rating, but the information is rarely publicized. The distributor may also cut a film before rating, in which case the agency may not be aware of the cut.

Due to the lack of information available from official agencies, I checked a few other ratings sources. The experts who contribute to Common Sense Media and the surfers who contribute to OK.COM both agree this film is suitable for 13 and up. Finally, I checked the Catholic News Service. The influence of the Catholic church on the original MPAA production code is well known. Less well known is that since the early 1930s, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and later the Catholic News Service, have been providing their own classifications, rating films for  “artistic merit and moral suitability.” On the artist merit side, “Director Jeremiah S. Chechik keeps the gags moving quickly past the double entendres and gets some laughs from Clark’s bumbling attempts to enjoy Christmas.” On the moral suitability side, this film is suitable for Adults, on the following scale:

A-I:  general patronage;
A-II: adults and adolescents;
A-III: adults;
L: limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.
O: morally offensive.

Gather round, for some more or less inoffensive family fun.

Area Classification Advisory Additional Information
Maritimes 14a Suitable for viewing by persons 14 years of age and older. Persons under 14 must be accompanied by an adult.
Quebec generalq The film is appropriate for viewing, rental or purchase by persons of all ages.
Ontario pg Parental Guidance is advised. Theme or content may not be suitable for all children.
Manitoba pg
Theme and content may not be suitable for all children.
Language Warning
Alberta pg Language Warning
British Columbia pg Parental guidance advised. Theme or content may not be suitable for all children although there is no age restriction. Coarse language
MPAA (U.S.A.)  PG-13 Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
BBFC BBFC - PG General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children A PG film should not unsettle a child aged around eight or older. Unaccompanied children of any age may watch, but parents are advised to consider whether the content may upset younger, or more sensitive, children. Contains mild comic violence, sex references and language  2 second cut. See notes above.
Australia m-au Recommended for Mature Audiences Occasional Coarse Language
New Zealand  PG-L Coarse Language
Common Sense Media 13+  Minimum age for which the film is developmentally appropriate. Silly humor for the holidays; some iffy stuff.
OK.COM  13+  Crowd sourced minimum age.
Catholic News Service A-III  Adults Some rough language laced with vulgarities and sexual innuendoes.

Click the name of the jurisdiction for more details about the classification (if available).

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, is of course the sequel to Neighbors, with a sorority instead of a fraternity. As the classification advisories/presence of Seth Rogen make clear, there is the usual crude comedy, however this is a rare case of a sequel improving on the original film, not just echoing the story. The added complexity comes from addressing some of the sexism around greater restrictions on partying at sororities, the rapey nature of frat parties, and broader issues of consent. These ladies want to party on their own terms. There’s a fun montage of parties, including a historical feminist party (featuring several different versions of Hillary Clinton), and a party to celebrate the loss of a character’s virginity (where the presumed male is never seen). It might be a stretch to call this a feminist film, but it has been praised for its approach to gender issues.

The arc of reinforcing conservative attitudes remains even as the film embraces newer values. For example, a same sex relationship for a former frat brother is treated as a source of sentiment, not humour, but the men have a traditional proposal and wedding. The realism of a character’s inability to work, due to his criminal record, is happily overcome by entrepreneurship. The core of the plot is a growing family’s desire to move to the suburbs. However, as crude comedies go,  Neighbors 2 is relatively liberal and enlightened. Just as the original was also released as Bad Neighbours, this has been released as Bad Neighbours 2 in some areas. The trailer gives a poor sense of the film, and several of the gags shown are not in the film.

Across Canada, the classification agencies were consistent in their ratings and advisories. Quebec wasn’t particularly worried about the drug use or sexual content. BC was busy counting the swearing – this only a 92 minute film. Other countries were slightly more restrictive, with the Americans giving an R rating, and several agencies not permitting any viewing by younger teens. That’s unfortunate, because they’d love the crude humour, and need to hear the messages about acceptance, independence, and consent.

Area Classification Advisory Additional Information
Quebec c13 Under 13 requires adult accompaniment.
  • Langage vulgaire
Pour l’arrivée de leur deuxième enfant, Mac et Kelly mettent leur demeure en vente afin d’emménager dans un autre quartier. Malheureusement, celle-ci risque d’être compromise lorsqu’une nouvelle association étudiante succède à celle de Teddy et s’installe dans la maison à côté. Sous la direction de Shelby, de jeunes filles décomplexées, revendicatrices et fêtardes enchaînent les soirées endiablées. Déterminés à vendre leur résidence, Mac et Kelly se tournent vers Teddy, leur ancien ennemi, pour qu’il les aide à se débarrasser de leurs tumultueuses voisines.
Ontario 14a Under 14 requires adult accompaniment.
  • Coarse Language
  • Sexual Content,
  • Substance Abuse
  • Coarse language
  • Slurs
  • Sexual references
  • Nudity in a non-sexual context
  • Illustrated or verbal references to drugs, alcohol or tobacco
  • Crude content
  • Scenes that may cause a child brief anxiety, or fear
  • Substance abuse
  • Embracing and kissing
  • Implied sexual activity
  • Restrained portrayals of non-graphic violence
Manitoba 14a Under 14 requires adult accompaniment.
  • Crude Content
  • Coarse Language
  • Substance Use
  • slurs/sexual references
  • frequent use of expletives/profanity
  • non-sexual nudity
  • brief non explicit violence
  • implied sexual activity
  • occasional crude/disturbing/offensive scenes
  • alcohol use
  • substance use
Alberta 14a Under 14 requires adult accompaniment.
  • Crude Sexual Content
  • Coarse Language
  • Substance Abuse
Content Elements:

  • Frequent use of the sexual expletive, some in a sexual context; frequent use of scatological slang and vulgar expressions; infrequent crude sexual references – some detail
  • Infrequent portrayals of sexual activity in a comic context – no nudity, little detail
  • Brief male genital nudity in a comic context
  • Frequent portrayals of and references to illegal drug use and misuse – some detail
  • Frequent crude references to bodily functions – some detail

Thematic Elements:

  • Independence and maturity
  • Perspectives on parenting
  • Gender and sexism

Classification Rationale:
Rated 14A for frequent coarse language, crude sexual references, and recreational drug use in a comic context.

British Columbia 14a Under 14 requires adult accompaniment. coarse & sexual language; sexual content The following were determinative to the classification decision:

  • Approximately 170 instances of coarse and/or sexual language
  • Five scenes depicting sexual content.

Classifiers also noted the following:

  • Several scenes of violence depicting beating and/or electrocution
  • Two sexually suggestive scenes
  • Two scenes of drug use involving marijuana
  • Scene of nudity, depicting genitalia, in a non-sexual context
  • Two scenes of crude content depicting vomit and/or bodily fluids.
MPAA (U.S.A.)  R Under 17 requires parent or guardian. Rated R for crude sexual content including brief graphic nudity, language throughout, drug use and teen partying.
BBFC 15 Under 15 not admitted. strong language, sex references, drug misuse Language: There is frequent strong language (‘motherf**ker’ and ‘f**k’), much of it used for comic effect but some also spoken in an aggressive manner.

Sex: There are frequent strong sex references, both verbal and visual, with one running joke focusing on a toddler using a large pink dildo as a toy.

Drugs: There is frequent drug misuse and drug references, with a group of girls setting themselves up as the purveyors of marijuana and also shown smoking the drug on regular occasions.

Australia  MA 15+ Under 15 not admitted. Strong sexual references, drug use and coarse language See chart for details.
Ireland 16 Under 16 not admitted. Very strong crude and offensive humour. Frequent drugs references. Strong language and sex references. Violence: Mild

Drugs: Strong

Sex/Nudity: Strong

Language: Strong

New Zealand R16 Under 16 not admitted. Sex scenes, violence, drug use and offensive language
Hong Kong IIB Not Suitable for
Young Persons and Children
Contains drug content, sexuality, sexual references, nudity, strong language and dangerous behaviour.

Click the name of the jurisdiction for more details about the classification (if available).