Movie Review #785: Some of the stereotypes can get annoying, but ‘A Christmas Story’ benefits from its yuletide cheer, nostalgia, and a natural performance from Peter Billingsley.
By Red Stewart
|Rated PG (contains suggestive dialogue)|
In December 2012, I was helping this independent orchestra group raise money by playing holiday music in front of a department store. It was cold, but the people there were fun so it was enjoyable enough. When the charity was over, I had some free time and decided to see what sort of gifts the shop was selling in the waning days before Christmas. Not to get too poetic, but as soon as I opened the doors, I found myself swept up in a stream of memories. It was heartbreaking to see all these toys and trinkets that, as a kid, I would have begged my parents for.
Bob Clark’s “A Christmas Story” captures those exact feelings and plays them out in a wonderfully penned and directed film about a boy named Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) who goes through all sorts of lengths and perils to get a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. It’s a mouthful alright, but the film isn’t exhausting in the slightest as Ralphie tries tactic after tactic, from implementing subliminal messages in his mother’s magazines to even asking Santa himself! However, the film is more than just that; it’s a nostalgic tale about how life once was for many of us growing up in the innocent world known as childhood. It was us against the world, with all sorts of hazards standing in our way every day, ranging from simple bullies to parent-teacher conspiracies.
I apologize for sounding childish but these are the feelings that “A Christmas Story” will bring out, and its success can really be attributed to Peter Billingsley. Out of all the child actors I have seen, from Josh Hutcherson to Macaulay Culkin, Billingsley performs so naturally that he isn’t so much acting as he is just living out his common life. Wen he accidentally swears and is forced to hold soap in his mouth (to wash the vileness away), we sympathize with him greatly since he’s an ordinary kid like us.
“A Christmas Story”’s biggest fault is that it ultimately takes itself too giddily for its own good. While there are some serious moments, the need to create a lighthearted mood leads to many side characters becoming clichés, such as the naïve father, overprotective mother, sadistic tormentor, overbearing teacher, weak sibling, and so forth. It’s enjoyable depending on the scene, but taking the whole film into perspective, it did lead to many annoying parts that could’ve been cut in post-production. On top of that, I also felt that Jean Shepherd’s narration could get dumb at times.
“A Christmas Story” is meant to appeal to viewers whose fond memories of the holidays are nothing more than empty recollections in the coldness of today’s world. It’s why it took many years to build up a reputation as an annual tradition in American households, similar to “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Choose to see it based on that requirement alone. ✴