A Christmas Story
A Christmas Story strikes a balance between being sentimental and irreverent, with Peter Billingsley putting in one of the better performances ever from a child actor and the rest of the cast clearly having a good time.
Reviewed by Jerry Renshaw, Fri., Dec. 22, 2000
Whether it's Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, or It's a Wonderful Life, everyone has certain Christmas movies that they've seen so many times they can no longer stomach them. Here are a couple of alternative Yuletide films, ones that will put a little different spin on the season.
A Christmas StoryD: Bob Clark (1983); with Peter Billingsley, Darin McGavin, Melinda Dillon, Scott Schwartz. Little Ralphie absolutely has to have a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Awake or asleep, he dreams of having one of the stamped-metal air rifles, a gift that would undoubtedly make him the coolest kid in town. Ralphie's thwarted at every turn, though, by the same phrase: "You'll shoot your eye out!" Taken from a Jean Shepherd story, A Christmas Story goes back to 1940s Indiana, with Ralphie at about age eight, and chronicles the kid's day-to-day life in the days before Christmas as a series of vignettes (with voiceovers from Jean Shepherd as an adult Ralphie). His dad (McGavin) is gruff but understanding, while his mom (Dillon) gamely puts up with the Old Man's eccentricities. The Old Man's fondest Christmas wish arrives in the mail, in the form of a lamp whose base is a fishnet-clad female leg. Swelling with pride, the Old Man immediately puts the monument to high kitsch in the front window, but it soon comes to a bad end when it's knocked over and shattered. The Old Man, crushed, tries to glue it back together (first accusing his wife of having "used up all the glue on purpose"), but the damage is done and the lamp and the dad will neither one be the same. McGavin has some of the movie's funniest lines, such as his reaction when Ralphie accidentally spills the lug nuts while Dad's changing a tire and utters the f-word (the adult Ralphie then comments on the flavorful qualities of various brands of soap). The Old Man later fills Ralphie in on the finer points of haggling over a Christmas tree. Even Christmas dinner goes horribly wrong, as the neighbor's pack of dogs makes its way into the kitchen and makes off with the turkey, as McGavin "wove a tapestry of profanity that to this day is still hovering somewhere over Lake Michigan." The movie's main character is still the chubby Ralphie, though. Years of torment at the hands of schoolyard bully Farkas (an undeniably ugly and rotten kid) explode when Ralphie goes buck wild on his ass and beats the stuffing out of him on the way home from school. Under duress from a triple-dog-dare, Ralphie's friend Flick licks a metal flagpole in the schoolyard and, inevitably, winds up being stuck to the freezing metal. Through it all, though, Ralphie has his eye on the BB gun. An unsympathetic department-store Santa puts his boot on Ralphie's head and sends him sliding down a chute after warning him that he'd, of course, shoot his eye out. Ralphie writes a paper about the BB rifle, but gets it back with a low grade and the same familiar admonition written across the top in red pencil. Still, he holds out hope until Christmas morning. A Christmas Story strikes a balance between being sentimental and irreverent, with Billingsley putting in one of the better performances ever from a child actor and the rest of the cast clearly having a good time. It's hard to believe that the same Bob Clark who directed the low comedy Porky's also directed this film.
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