With Christmas being only sixteen days away, the stress of the holidays can be quite pressing on one’s nerves, and taking a much needed break from the all the Christmas shopping and decorating can do wonders for one’s spirits. With that in mind, Bob Clark’s ‘A Christmas Story’ (1983) much just be the picture to do the trick for those in search of a Christmas film that has a lot of heart but very little “sap” to it.
A quirky and off-beat tale, Clark’s ‘A Christmas Story’ stars Peter Billingsley as Ralph "Ralphie" Parker, a nine-year-old boy who wants one thing and one thing only for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock, and "this thing which tells time". There isn’t an adult in all of Hohman, Indiana that Ralph doesn’t appeal to, and every one of them always says the same thing to him: “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
Intercut with Ralph’s quest for the best Christmas present ever are a number of vignettes about the rest of his family and some of the other denizens that compose Hohman, Indiana, creating a loose plot of interconnected stories that touch upon such themes as nostalgia, growing up, disappointment, and the importance of never saying “Queen Mother of Dirty Words” in front of your parents (less you want to chew on a bar of soap for a while).
Based on the short stories and semi-fictional anecdotes of Jean Sheppard’s childhood in Hammond, Indiana, Clark’s ‘A Christmas Story’ is curiously popular among modern audiences despite (or perhaps because of) its off-beat but still relatable humor. Unlike most classic Christmas movies, which wallow in sentimentality and romanticism, Clark’s ‘A Christmas Story’, manages to be both enduring and likeable, but without dressing itself up in schmaltz.
The true key to ‘A Christmas Story’s success is its ability to balance itself between the twin spheres of “relevant” and “weird” without veering too far off into either direction. The trials and tribulations that Ralphie and his younger brother Randy (Ian Petrella) endure are often times relatable (dealing with obnoxious bullies; getting humiliating gifts from weird but well-meaning relatives; etc.), but many of these same trials are also injected with a bit of strangeness to them, like the sub-plot involving Ralphie’s parents arguing over the displaying of a tacky and risqué lamp won in a sweepstakes, leading to the “battle of the lamp” between The Old Man (Darren McGavin) and Ralph’s mother (Melinda Dillon).
It’s true that ‘A Christmas Story’ is not for everyone. While its peculiar humor makes it stand-out and unique compared to other more traditional Christmas tales, it’s very loose plot and weaker, less memorable vignettes might turn off some folks who fail to see the appeal of a film that seems to be nothing more than some loosely collected memories from a weird but ultimately happy childhood.
But for those in search of a Christmas movie that isn’t overly sappy, nor utilizes the off-exhausted stylings of today’s pop-culture saturated comedies, Clark’s ‘A Christmas Story’ is a perfect gem of a film, and sure to bring a few smiles by the time the credits start to roll.
Find the nearest Blockbuster (assuming they still exist) near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.