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Grade: A-Christmas Story, A (1982)

Director: Bob Clark

Stars: Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon

Release Company: MGM

MPAA Rating: PG

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Clark: A Christmas Story

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I don't remember ever wanting any Christmas present as much as Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) wants that BB gun. In fact, I hardly remember any childhood Christmas presents that I did get, but that doesn't prevent me from enjoying A Christmas Story, a lighthearted view of childhood (based on humorist Jean Shepherd's
In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash).

A Christmas Story is one of the few holiday movies I don't mind re-watching each season. It doesn't attempt to be a weepy-eyed, over-sentimentalized view of the Christmas season. Instead, the 1940s period piece (set in northern Indiana) takes us inside Ralphie's mind for a kid's eye view of family life and Christmas.

Whether we grew up in the '40s is irrelevant. We've all seen enough movies like the schmaltzy It’s a Wonderful Life to recognize the period, and we've all been naïve 9-year-olds at one point in our lives.

Though it can add something if we really once tasted that yucky orange-red Lifeboy soap, I'm sure we can all relate to weird scenarios such as Ralphie returning home blind after suffering from parental soap-poisoning. With tears still streaking his face from the Lifeboy punishment, a smile creeps across as he dreams up his ridiculous “revenge.” And we smile along with him.

Although the plot plays second fiddle to the individual vignettes, there's a thread that develops Ralphie's obsessive passion for the Red Ryder air rifle and his naïve scheming to obtain his goal, despite the adults who line up against him with warnings of “You'll shoot your eye out!”

Who can't relate to Ralphie leaving Red Ryder ads on his parents' beds (note the proper separate beds required in 1940s and 1950s television shows)? Ralphie tries to come up with the smooth verbal hint, only to blurt out the nonsensical “Flick says he saw some grizzly bears near Polaski's candy store!” I laugh because I recall saying something equally stupid and off-the-wall to my parents, and I still can’t erase it with a delete button.

So what’s the big deal with the BB gun? Why is this such a significant present for our hero? It could represent a tongue-in-cheek rite of passage, considering the various incidents portrayed as a recognition that Ralphie is passing from childhood to quasi-adulthood.

He already looks after his little brother, who is bundled up like Kenny in South Park, but after “helping” his dad change a tire, uttering his first “F”-word in front of his dad, and beating up the neighborhood bully, his dad decides to reward his son with an adult toy.

Besides that, there&'s Ralphie's realization that those radio ads promoting Little Orphan Annie's secret club aren't all they are cracked up to be—nothing but blatant American consumerism.

Ralphie’s parents are as quirky as most parents, and only come across as caricatures during Ralphie's fantasies. Otherwise, they are quite human.

Credit Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin here with their warm portrayals and terrific comic timing. The “Old Man” may work in profanity "the way other artists worked in oil or clay,” but the deluge of cursing that occurs with the numerous furnace-breakdowns is humorously covered with gibberish.

McGavin comes across with a father's sensitivity. Note his preoccupation with the sports news, and watch his facial expressions when poor Ralphie has to model the ridiculous pink Easter-bunny pajamas fashioned by his aunt.

He also saves face and deals with “disasters” unflappably when his prized leg lamp is broken and his Christmas turkey is devoured by the pack of dogs.

Dillon portrays the same mother that many of us had or wished we had. She's overprotective at times with her concerns about BB guns, but she can sometimes be fooled by Ralphie's scams, and shows sensitivity. Her most notable display of sensitivity comes when she covers up the details of Ralphie's fight. Do note how this is nicely set up by the Lifeboy soap punishment, as she distastefully tests out the soap after sending Ralphie off to bed.

Overall, I enjoy this annual Christmas favorite better than any other traditionally viewed Christmas movie. It's more about childhood memories than it is about the holiday itself. I don't even mind the numerous adult-Ralphie comments that Jean Shepherd makes as a narrator, because they mostly reveal what we now recall in horror about our own childhood blunders.

Is it possible for someone who generally enjoys art-house fare to recommend such a lightweight film? You may think I have “lobsters crawling out of my ears,” but A Christmas Story is a fun flick (not referring to the kid in the movie who now does porno flicks).
 


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