Three of my favorite comedy films are alike in that they feature tradition and depict characters trying to rebel from, or innovate from, said tradition. In Groundhog Day (1993), sarcastic Pittsburgh weatherman Phil Connors is forced into repeated tradition by a time loop focused around February 2. In Christmas Vacation (1989), idealist dad Clark Griswold attempts to outdo himself by amplifying holiday traditions. Caddyshack (1980) features the revered tradition of golf being besmirched by “new money” club visitors.
Groundhog Day violates traditional comedy norms by depicting an increasing reverence for contemporary traditions. Snarky big-city weatherman Phil Connors is a wisecracking misanthrope, declaring “people are morons” during the drive to Punxsutawney, PA to cover the annual Groundhog Day festival. He mocks small-town tradition and celebration, preferring to settle back at his bed-and-breakfast with booze instead of going to dinner with his two coworkers. When he keeps awakening at the B-and-B at 6:00 AM on February 2, he begins evolving his views over time, eventually becoming a better man.
Christmas Vacation takes holiday norms in an interesting direction by exploring the concept of a man trying to amplify tradition by leaps and bounds. Clark W. Griswold, Jr. does not want to make a postcard-perfect Christmas…he wants to make a Christmas fit for Disneyland. Clark’s ill-advised use of 25,000 white Christmas lights to completely blanket every square inch of his home has become a pop culture staple. Redneck cousin Eddy’s arrival at the upper-class residence in his ramshackle RV is also comedy fit for a connoisseur. Whereas Groundhog Day explores tradition with wry wit, Christmas Vacation clobbers it with slapstick and has become a widespread film favorite in the process.
Caddyshack combines wry and slapstick in a young man’s dilemma over pursuing elitist tradition versus “new money” innovation. Caddy Danny Noonan is a young man trying to decide whether or not to go off to college. Bushwood Country Club patriarch Elihu Smails, a judge, is an old stick-in-the-mud from the Greatest Generation. He cheats at golf but holds its traditions, and the pristine country club, sacred. Al Czervik, a rich real estate developer, is a newcomer to Bushwood and treats golf like a circus. Both men offer Danny, a talented golfer, a path to the future during a hilarious “snobs” versus “slobs” golf tournament.