A Christmas Story (1983)

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“A Christmas Story” is, and always will be, a perennial holiday favorite at our house. It is a film low on plot, but high on belly laughs and great quotes. Don’t expect a lot of big drama or major events in the story, it’s very much a movie that encapsulates a time and place, that of 1940’s Indiana. It’s nostalgic without minimizing the woes that seem huge to us when we’re kids, of which nine-year-old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) has many.

All Ralphie wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun he has seen advertised in his small Midwestern town. Seems simple and wholesome enough to us, right? In a world where ultra-violent video games and nifty new electronics are in high demand, a BB gun seems quaint, innocent even. But all Ralphie hears from the people in his life is “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

Ralphie’s dad (Darren McGavin) is a traditional father and husband with a good heart, who nevertheless seems to be a little on the dim side. The gruff way he treats Ralphie’s ‘s mother (Melinda Dillon) wouldn’t fly by today’s standards, but it fits it’s old-fashioned time frame. Ralphie’s mom dotes on her boys and if she’s fed up with her worn role as mother and housewife she certainly doesn’t show it. She does. however, prove herself on multiple occasions to be smarter and altogether more competent than the ‘old man.’

Ralphie’s little brother Randy (Ian Petrella) is a bit on the whiny side and takes a lot of looking after. Ralphie does not always get along with his brother, and rarely rises to the occasion of really keeping tabs on him. The very episodic plot revolves around triple dog dares,  truculent Santa Clauses, and one very nasty bully by the name of Scut Farkus (Zack Ward,) who torments Ralphie and his group of friends regularly. Meanwhile, Ralphie aspires to drop the great hint that will lead to his parents’ purchase of the legendary BB gun.

Director Bob Clark doesn’t just know how to direct kids- he excels at it, drawing a excellent performance from every child actor in the cast. Both the classic stars who play Ralphie’s parents are brilliant, but Ralphie’s dad in particular reduces me to breathless giggles every time I watch the film. Jean Shepherd (the author of the autobiographical book this movie is based on, ‘In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash’) serves as the self-deprecating voice-over of the adult Ralphie.

I think I died inside a little when I found out about straight-to-DVD, woebegone ‘sequel’ to this film, “A Christmas Story 2.” I wonder now how such an atrocity came to exist, raping the classic original will also having it’s way with little pieces of our hearts at the same time. All this from watching the tragically misguided trailer.

My family watches “A Christmas Story” every year when the Yuletide season comes around, and the film never fails to be hysterical. Ralphie’s imagined ‘wishful thinking’ sequences are a highlight. I think I like this a little bit better than “It’s a Wonderful Life,” my other favorite Christmas movie (“Love Actually” is also a worthy choice.) I am happy to say that “A Christmas Story” stands as one of my all-time favorite movies of any genre and I hope to continue the tradition of seeing it every Christmas for years to come.

A Christmas Story

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