PG, but there's a lot of swearing in this movie. It's '80s kids' movie swearing. I suppose there's some innuendo with the leg lamp. Probably, from a 2023 perspective (oh man, I segued into that perfectly!), that last scene that made my mom crack up when we were younger with the playing up of ethnic stereotypes is really problematic now. But it's PG. We showed our kids. Maybe I could have cut out the last shot. I don't know.
DIRECTOR: Bob Clark
Oh man, I'm so dumb all the time. Last time I was writing an entry on this blog, I revealed that I was writing multiple per day because I didn't want to have a backlog for Christmas break. Okay, that was smart. But then I decided not to write any blogs during Christmas break and now I have a backlog. So just apologizing now if all sense of logic and fluidity go out the window because, once again, I'm writing them ahead of time to play a little bit of catchup. I really apologize to the film Watermelon Man because I watched that under the worst possible conditions AND it's not going to be any time soon until I get to it.
The big takeaway: this is Boomer candy. I don't say that like it's a bad thing. Normally, I think of something as Boomer candy, it's something that is pretty horrible. But this? This is fine. A Christmas Story falls in a really weird place in the Christmas cinematic canon. In some ways, it's a classic. People still reference "You'll shoot your eye out" and know what a Red Ryder air rifle is. But if there's a movie that wears its age on its sleeve, it's A Christmas Story. Now, I haven't witnessed the fabled return of Peter Billingsley to this role. While I hear that the movie isn't bad, it does do that legacy sequel thing where the same events seem to happen to the same characters to play up the nostalgia. I totally believe that's what the sequel is going to be and I'm not even saying that I'm not going to watch it. All I know is that my son, who thought that this first viewing of A Christmas Story was "meh", somehow thought that the trailer for the new one looked somehow genius. I don't understand it. Is it exclusively because it was filmed digitally versus on very worn film? I don't know.
But my wife's family all hates this movie. It's a strong move. I know that they aren't alone. I was actually shocked that my wife agreed to watch it and it seemed like she kind of enjoyed it, for the most part. Yeah, I just said that the movie feels really dated and it totally does. But I'm stuck in the weird place between saying, "This movie took me back to my childhood when this movie was new / nostalgia fever" and "There's something universal about the themes and characters in the movie. I am one of the kids / young adults who sat around on Christmas morning growing up watching the 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story. It's not like it was my favorite movie or anything. Heck, it wasn't even on the list of my favorite Christmas movies. But it was comfort food. That's what my big takeaway from this movie is. In the same way that Ralphie's little brother inhaled what looked like the most coma-inducing mashed potatoes, this movie is distilled comfort food. Is it challenging? Not in the least. But that doesn't mean that the movie doesn't have anything to say.
It's weird. We're in this place in time where watching A Christmas Story is a form of nostalgia because it was made in the '80s. But there's an Inception level of nostalgia as well. I watched a movieset in the '50s that was made in the '80s in 2022. There's a lot to process there. And I will say, as Boomery as this movie is, it never really comes down on the newer generation. The reason that I liked A Christmas Story growing up isn't because it had anything it necessarily had to say about the glory of the 1950s. I liked it because it rests on the notion that kids are kids, regardless of generation. Yeah, there's some pretty heavy '50s vibes going all the way through the film. I don't deny that. But Ralphie and his friends deal with problems in the same way that most kids do. Oh geez, I'm going to feel old (and I refuse to read what I read at the upcoming link), but what A Christmas Story was for the adults in 1983 is what 8-Bit Christmas was for me. I hope I had the presence of mind to make that connection when I was writing that blog probably around the same time last year.
A Christmas Story kind does what Cracker Barrel does for America. All of our childhoods seemed somewhat idealized. Yeah, things sucked. Ralphie ends up nearly beating a bully to death. (Let me establish: that scene messed me up in terms of thinking that you could just flail on bullies and it will all work out. Reality has proven that it may have just sunken me lower when all was said and done.) But it provides a Rockwellian version of nostalgia. It's not like A Christmas Story is the only film to do this. I mean, American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused do the exact same thing. But maybe it is just the notions of the '50s that put people in this absolutely serene version of America that probably didn't exist. This is a world free of racism all of the sudden. It's why the Chinese joke at the end works so well. In a world without racism, something so innocuous only exists in isolation. I would like to say, the joke at the end still works. I mean, I feel really uncomfortable about it right now. I'm talking in terms of structure. The juxtaposition of the most Rockwellian family ever to a group of Chinese singers on Christmas mostly lands. But it also is a version of America that we choose not to look at.
The weird thing about A Christmas Story is that it is almost an anthology film. There's a throughline in the story: Ralphie has to convince one of the seats of power to buy him the air rifle. Every so often, the movie reminds you that this is Ralphie's quest. He asks his mom. He tries writing his best theme on the merits of an air rifle. He endures the line for Santa to give him the air rifle. But this is the connective tissue that makes Ralphie's year memorable. However, most of the story is just the nature that is kind of true about the situation that is Christmas Break. It's actually really weird that Ralphie isn't on Christmas Break for the majority of this movie because A Christmas Story reflects the really ambiguous nature of Christmas Break. Sure, Ralphie wants that air rifle, but this is a series of mini-adventures that don't really come back into play for the majority of the film. Flick getting his tongue stuck to the pole during recess is one of the more memorable parts of the movie. It never comes back into play. Ralphie finally stood up for himself and beat up the bully who was tormenting him for the majority of the film. This is barely a moment in the overall telling of the narrative. Think about each story and think about how much impact it has on the overall plot. The answer is nothing. Ralphie straight up drops the f-bomb in front of his dad and it is over when he gets his mouth washed up with soap.
I would say that the film has these moments for characterization, but that also might be a misread. Ralphie is meant to be an avatar for the audience. There's very little that makes Ralphie unique. If I had to criticize him in 2023, it's that he's a bit basic on purpose. Instead, the film aims to keep that nostalgia button firing. Every scene, whether true or not, rings something authentic with the audience. It's distilled, weaponized nostalgia. Sure, I never stuck my tongue to a lamp post, but I did get into some shannanigans with my friends that got me in trouble. My dad never had battles with the furnace, but I do remember him spending quite a bit of time in the basement. That's the point. None of this is about Ralphie or the Red Ryder BB gun. It's about inspiring those watching the movie to tell stories and laugh. There's almost an element of sitting around a campfire with a beer exchanging war stories. It's not challenging you to do anything except for let that moment of vulnerability out a bit. It's not impressive vulnerability. If anything, like most things nostalgic, it's painted by the feelings of an era that didn't happen. But the movie's final message is just one of embracing friendship and childhoods lost.
My in-laws are right: the movie isn't great. But it is wholesome as heck, even when it kind of doesn't deserve to be all that wholesome. There's something unearned about it. But if the movie's goal is to make you feel good and remember your childhood, it does the job well. I suppose that I could say that the movie is about family, which is fine. But it's more about how you feel when you are around family more than it is family by itself.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.