By Christian DiMartino
I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas. It really doesn’t feel like it. Like I’ve had my tree up since early November (judge away) and the last few weeks have been a blur. I’ve even been slacking on my Christmas movie viewings. I typically try not to do more than one post in a day, in the event that I get on your nerves. But I have done a little catching up, and since Christmas is a days away, I will also continue to catch up.
You know what movie is a banger? A Christmas Story. You know what I haven’t reviewed for this segment yet? A Christmas Story. Once again, slacking. But Bob Clark’s 1983 gem is arguably the best Christmas movie of all. Obviously It’s a Wonderful Life is one of the greatest movies ever made, and it’s in a league all its own. But there is something about A Christmas Story that gives me a warm feeling. It’s so funny, every emotional note it strikes is perfect in pitch, the performances are fabulous, the narration is first rate. It’s also just so distinctly quotable and memorable, but furthermore, it’s one I really enjoy watching with my dad. He gets so invested in it, every year, that it’s like you’re attending a Mystery Science Theatre screening or something, but in this case he’s basking in the greatness.
Clark’s film is special, and obviously it’s lived on in the decades since. To the point where the merchandise surrounding it is probably sold year round (I don’t know how I haven’t broken down and bought one of those leg lamps yet). Believe it or not, sequels were made to it long before HBO Max’s recent A Christmas Story Christmas. There was one in the 90’s called My Summer Story, which starred Charles Grodin and none of the original cast. I would watch that. There was also, in 2012, a direct to DVD sequel titled A Christmas Story 2, which starred Daniel Stern. This one I will never sit through. No disrespect to Stern, but this movie is a direct sequel, and from what footage I saw, it really just wants to tap into the nostalgia and beats of the first movie. Which is fine, except it ALSO doesn’t star a single actor from the original movie, while it revolves around a teenage Ralphie. It just feels cheap and forced, no thanks.
Now comes A Christmas Story Christmas, and folks, this is it. If you have been craving a sequel to the original (which all and all isn’t the most necessary of ideas, but hey, whatever), this is the definitive sequel. Why? Because A Christmas Story Christmas finds Peter Billingsley reprising the role of Ralphie Parker. Not to mention, Scott Schwartz and R.D. Robb reprise their roles as his best friends Flick and Schwartz (Robb, in particular, looks the exact same). Not to mention, there are other actors reprising their roles from the original. This is it. After A Christmas Story Christmas, we need not dive into this well again. The movie is corny, and it’s not as good as the original. But it captures the spirit of the original and effectively taps into the nostalgia, while also just being a light, mostly funny trifle. You’ll also laugh at this, but I kid you not, this has one of the best endings I’ve seen this year. Seriously.
The original was based on a novel called In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepard. What’s notable about the original film is that Shepard himself provided the narration for the adult Ralphie, and the whole movie was adult Ralphie strolling down memory lane. Shepard’s narration in that movie is elite, and adds such personality to it. A Christmas Story Christmas centers around adult Ralphie, so this time we have Billingsley doing his own narration. It’s not quite up to par, but also the movie sets its tone early- the tone being, that middle aged Ralphie Parker still daydreams and dreams big. Once it dawned on me that this was the vibe of the movie, I was pretty locked in.
Ralphie now lives in Chicago with his wife (Erin Hayes) and their two kids. Ralphie is now a writer, but a struggling one who believes he should be a name. It’s Christmastime and the family is about to go visit his parents. Melinda Dillon’s performance in the original film is part of what makes it so charming, but I believe she’s retired, so here she’s played by Julie Hagerty. Which is a worthy replacement, because she ALSO is always undeniably charming. His dad was of course played by Darren McGavin, whose performance in the original is hysterical. McGavin died in 2006 though, so he’s of course not returning. This is factored into the movie as well.
Ralphie receives the news of his father’s passing, and the trip to see his mother is expedited. The bulk of the movie centers on Ralphie dwelling on the memories of his father, as he has to prepare the obituary. But it’s really just his strolls down memory lane, reuniting with old friends, bumping into familiar faces. One thing I admired about this is that although the nostalgia is definitely on full blast, it doesn’t really shove it down your throat. There are a number of allusions to events from the first movie, but there isn’t anything as overt as it could’ve been. Ralphie doesn’t buy a leg lamp in his father’s memory or anything.
Clearly people have been wanting to return to this well for some time. But here, I think they did as good of a job as they could’ve. I liked A Christmas Story Christmas simply for the ways that it delivered a charming sequel to a movie that’s beloved to many. It’s not the original, sure, but it does interesting things within the world of the original. I enjoyed the use of the score from the original, as well as the callbacks and what not. Not every laugh lands, but I was happy to spend some harmless time with these people again. And again, it builds to an ending that I f**king loved. Particularly because I didn’t see it coming. It’s a stroll down memory lane that I’ll probably stroll down again in a few years time.
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