(1983) dir. Bob Clark
It’s funny how this film has become one of the staples of contemporary Christmas culture, playing for 24 hours straight back to back on one of Ted Turner’s networks. I remembered when I first heard that a few years ago, I thought it was genius. It kind of amazes me that they still do it, but the other day, on Christmas, I noticed that a couple of channels were playing the “yule log” video which is, of course, a lot more insane. But that is Christmas culture for you, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Every year, Hollywood pumps out a handful of Christmas movies, ranging from the simpering, the jovial family film (often also simpering), and the modern “skewered” Christmas film. And 99.9% of them suck. Terribly. Horribly. Who in their right mind would see them willingly?
And yet, this oddball Christmas story, A Christmas Story, adapted from writer/narrator Jean Shepherd’s hilarious short stories, originally published in Playboy magazine of all places, is not only one of the best (if not the best) Christmas movies ever made, it’s also one of the downright funniest movies. I guess that it’s just one of those odd things where writing, casting, and everything just came together as it so infrequently does to make one of those movies that just about everyone loves.
Darren McGavin should have probably gotten an Oscar nomination for his performance as the father. From his completely PG diatribes of inscrutable cursing to his broad moments of physical humor, he’s beyond perfect. And Peter Billingsley, who many of us grew up with from commercials as well as this film, is incredible. He, like McGavin, is totally brilliant. And all of the smaller parts are totally great as well.
I watched this with my kids and their cousin last night. The film was a tad old for them, especially the comic narration by Shepherd (definitely over their heads), but they laughed hysterically at the tongue freezing to the flagpole and the rabbit suit scene among others. I had to explain a few things…such as why Ralphie got his mouth washed out with soap and what “fudge” stood for. But such is life.