Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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A Christmas Story

Film #176


Ralphie has to convince his parents, teachers, and Santa that a Red Ryder B.B. gun really is the perfect gift for the 1940s.

Year 1, Day 173

BEFORE: With the smell of freshly-baked Christmas cookies in the air I think now is as good a time as any to begin a little Christmas chain starting with a controversial one for me, A Christmas Story. I say controversial because this is one of those films that most people like but I don’t. Yes, I have seen A Christmas Story before but as per usual with films I rewatch for the marathon, I saw it a long time ago (probably around elementary school time). A Christmas Story is a bit different though in that I do remember many of the scenes that take place (stuck tongue, mall Santa, leg lamp, etc.) but I don’t remember why I have such a negative reaction toward the film. So as I watch A Christmas Story for the first time in many years, I will be watching it to see if my thoughts have changed or why I held these thoughts in the first place.

AFTER: I still don’t think A Christmas Story is a fantastic film or a hilarious comedy, but I did find my self enjoying it much more than I remember many years ago.

For me there were two areas of entertainment in the film: (1) seeing all of these classic scenes which are constantly referenced in real life; and (2) the ending. It’s not that I found the humor in the film to be funny but that I think of people talking about the triple dog dare or Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) saying “fudge” and thinking about that is what’s funny to me. The father (Darren McGavin) was by far the funniest character and his jokes were funny in and of themselves, the leg lamp scenes among the funniest. And then there’s the ending which I found to me exponentially better than the rest of the film. The opening of presents on Christmas day, the events in the house afterward, and the Christmas dinner in a not-so-typical location had me audibly laughing for the first time in the film.

But this doesn’t mean all of my issues with the film were miraculously solved - there are still many things I do not like. Let’s go back to the humor as this is a comedy. Some of the aforementioned classic scenes were amusing this time around because they brought up memories of friends and family referencing the scenes but they weren’t funny enough to produce an audible chuckle. A lot of the humor relied on the narration (provided by the writer Jean Shepherd) or dream sequences (e.g. the Red Ryder dream, essay dream) and it just fell flat. The narration and the acting in the dream sequences was over-dramatized, which I understand was probably intentional to give it a bizarre and unnatural feeling, but I did not find it funny.

Then there’s a bunch of issues I have with the characters and the story. The school bully Scut Farkus (Zack Ward) and his accomplice, the father’s battle with the furnace, and Ralphie receiving the decoder ring for the Little Orphan Annie radio show are just a few examples of the issues I have. All three of these examples are referenced multiple times throughout the film but are done so in a passing manner. These problems/situations just show up out of nowhere and seem to be big parts of the film but instead you just a few seconds of them scattered throughout the film and then just disappear all of a sudden. The decoder ring was the worst offender of this. It’s first mentioned about a third of the way into the film and then ends about fifteen minutes later when Ralphie is disappointed with the message he decoded. No other mention of it, no nice incorporation with the rest of the movie. It just appears abruptly and then disappears just as quickly.

Roger Ebert describes how these scenes are accurate representations of kids of the 1940s in his review saying:

The movie is based on a nostalgic comic novel… [The author] remembers the obvious things, like fights with the bullies at school, and getting into impenetrable discussions with younger kids who do not quite know what all the words mean. He remembers legendary schoolteachers and hiding in the cupboard under the sink and having fantasies of defending the family home with a BB gun.

I don’t care. There are many great films whose strength is recreating a time period or the feelings of specific age groups, Pirate Radio and Good Night, and Good Luck are two great examples recently from the marathon, but in both those cases the films did something that A Christmas Story didn’t: achieve it’s goal. Pirate Radio was a comedy that made me laugh and Good Night, and Good Luck was a drama that delivered in entertainment. A Christmas Story wasn’t funny for me until the ending which in my book means it missed the boat.

All this being said, A Christmas Story is a classic film that many people enjoy and even watch every year. This film has never been my favorite and despite finding some newfound appreciation and enjoyment for the film, don’t think it ever will be my favorite. But don’t let that stop you from having a good time watching it on the TBS marathon this Christmas Eve and Day. This is just my opinion.

RATING: 3 out of 5