|A Christmas Story|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 26 September 2000|
So it is with ‘A Christmas Story,’ which was actually made in 1983 but might just as easily have been made today. Based on Jean Shepherd’s novel ‘In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,’ ‘Christmas Story’ is an amusing oddity. Imagine a "Saturday Evening Post" cover as a feature comedy film, and you may get an idea of what this child’s-eye view of a ‘50s holiday season is like.
Peter Billingsley, astoundingly precocious without being overly cute, plays Ralphie, whose greatest desire in life is to possess a genuine Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine Action Air Rifle (by the end of the movie, you’ll be able to rattle off the entire spiel with him). Ralphie spends virtually all of his time dreaming up ways to persuade grown-ups that they are being silly when they spout objections like, "You’ll shoot your eye out!"
‘Christmas Story’ is essentially a series of thematically connected vignettes. Most of these are gently funny, while others – especially Ralphie’s fantasies that materialize right before our eyes, hit just the right level of outrageousness. An encounter with a department-store Santa in Chapters 23-24 captures the flavor of childhood nightmare precisely; much of its humor lies in its dead-on accuracy.
Director Bob Clark demonstrates that he’s great working with kids but less skilled guiding his adult performers. Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin have been urged to wildly overplay Ralphie’s parents, although both (Dillon most notably) manage to evoke a few smiles anyway. Billingsley, who was also excellent in ‘Death Valley’ (why didn’t this actor work more often?), is remarkable, combining profound sobriety with impeccable, mature comic timing.
The script, by Shepherd & Leigh Brown & Clark, combines with the direction to evoke the nostalgia of a ‘50s or ‘60s Disney live-action feature, period-right and sentimental without being cloying. The Christmas music comes off well on the DVD and Reuben Freed’s production design deserves special commendation for its attention to atmospheric detail.
‘A Christmas Story’ is slight but winning in an offbeat way. Some people swear by it as their favorite Christmas comedy. Most adults will enjoy the outing and kids appear to have a hugely good time with it.