Christmas Movies

Movie Review: A Christmas Story – For Those Of Us Who Never Have the “Perfect” Christmas

Written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark
Directed by Bob Clark

For some people, Christmas means the perfect celebration. You know the kind. Their kids all look perfect in the Christmas photo in velvet dresses and vests, sitting in front of the perfect fire with the perfect Christmas tree nearby. A visit to their house on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day would find these perfect kids cheerfully unwrapping presents, then sitting down to the perfect meal at a table that looks impeccable with a tablecloth and cloth napkins under the silverware. After the meal, they gather around the piano and sing Christmas Carols, never off-key.

Yup, I had people like that in my family.

Our Christmas tends to be a little different. The dogs chase the cats or each other through the house, knocking over the Christmas tree and creating a blanket of shredded pine needles on the carpet. The turkey is done an hour before it should be and ends up dried out while we’re waiting for the potatoes to finish baking. Inevitable, one of the kids complains about getting clothes, and another asks “Is that it?” Our Christmas card has the kids looking frazzled as it was snapped quick after a day of skiing just so we would have a picture that would look seasonal. The good china won’t even come out this year, never mind silverware, a tablecloth, and fancy napkins.

If your Christmases resemble mine, you will likely enjoy A Christmas Story. It is a sweet remembrance of holidays past, with all their ups and downs; their good times and bad; joys and sorrows; the surprises and let-downs.

Christmas is coming to the city of Hammond, Indiana. The streets are festooned with decorations. Salvation Army bands play festive tunes and Santas ring their bells on street corners. Flurries are in the air. The Department Store, Higbees, features beautifully crafted holiday displays in its windows. Kids press their noses to the glass, fascinated by the toys that beckon them.

Ralphie (portrayed by Peter Billingsley) wants a Red Rider 200 Shot Air Rifle. That is his holy grail this Christmas season. He’s been dropping not-so-subtle hints to his parents (portrayed by Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin) for a few weeks. However, his mother has doubts that this would be safe for her son.

Ralphie’s family is at times normal, and at times not. His father is obsessed with their furnace and futters around with it constantly, feeling vindicated when black smoke spews from the air ducts. He incessantly enters contests, dreaming of one day winning it big. Little brother Randy (portrayed by Ian Petrella) turns every meal into a battle when he plays with his food. His mother holds it all together and doesn’t complain.

On the fringes of all this, Ralphie copes with the day-to-day angst that comes with being his age. There’s a bully who tortures him on the way home from school, the lesson to be learned about putting a tongue to metal in the winter, all while dreaming of that Red Rider 200 Shot Air Rifle. There’s finding out what happens when his father finally wins one of those contests, all the while dreaming of that Red Rider 200 Shot Air Rifle. There’s the visit to Santa, waiting in what seems like an endless line with his younger brother and ending up almost too tongue-tied to voice his desire for that Red Rider 200 Shot Air Rifle.

And almost every single adult he meets voices the same opinion of his choice of a present for Christmas, “You’ll put your eye out, kid!!”

Will Ralphie get his dream present at Christmas? Will the family have anything resembling that perfect Christmas holiday?

The story in A Christmas Story is sweet and fun without being so saccharine I wanted to turn my head and puke. The story has its ups and downs. Ralphie’s family is nowhere near the perfect family, yet they have the sense of family that many others who achieve that “perfect” holiday is missing out on.

The acting is terrific. Peter Billingsley is simply wonderful as Ralphie. He blends the right amount of youthful exuberance and naivete with the desire for a material object that is only endearing at this young age. As his father, Darren McGavin is magnificent. He blends the right amount of ineptness with the desire to do what’s right for his family, even if it doesn’t end up that way. Whether he’s wrestling with the temperamental furnace in the basement or marveling at what he’s won as it’s delivered from Fragile, Italy (he pronounces it Fra-Jee-Lay) he’s charming in an inept way. For most of us, at times our fathers or spouses have all resembled this man. Melinda Dillon represents the mother who keeps everything together and is the backbone of the family. If we didn’t have one like her, we all wish we did. She’s not perfect, but she’s trying her best to take care of her family and make the holiday the best they can have.

Jean Sheppard is a writer and humorist many might not have heard of, but he’s definitely got a knack for capturing the eccentricities of family life. The story touches on parts of the holiday that will hit home with many, without being overkill like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which plays the whole thing just for laughs. The pacing is great and I found myself laughing quite often.

For me, A Christmas Story brings back the days of the imperfect Christmas, but the ones that make me smile the most now with the memories. It’s the ones that aren’t “perfect” that we remember the best, such as when five of my (male) friends spent over an hour putting together a riding toy for my oldest daughter when she was a year or two old. A Christmas Story will bring back those memories for you too.

Merry Christmas everyone!


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