What better movie for Christmas Eve than arguably the greatest Christmas movie ever made? A CHRISTMAS STORY captures the essence of the holiday like no other film. It is a movie that revels in all of the things that make Christmas what it is from the viewpoint of childhood. This is a film that understands childhood better than pretty much any other movie ever made - perfectly capturing the emotional roller-coaster that is the Christmas season.
I suspect everyone on Earth knows the story, but I will sum up. Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) wants a BB gun for Christmas. His mom (Melinda Dillon) says they are too dangerous, and his father (Darren McGavin) seems to not want to even talk about it. A CHRISTMAS STORY is about Ralphie’s efforts to secure himself that BB gun. Along the way, he encounters a schoolyard bully, an embittered department-store Santa, and an unfortunate evening with Lifebuoy soap. As he navigates these things, he will often slip into daydreams that depict him as a heroic cowboy, a blind beggar, and a triumphant essay writer. It is a story full of fun, innocent whimsy.
Director Bob Clark and writer/narrator Jean Shepherd created a story of one kid’s journey through the days leading up to Christmas that rings utterly true - even in the story’s more outlandish moments. All of the characters are perfectly depicted. The parents are lovingly imperfect, and the kids are deviously innocent. The family dynamic depicted in A CHRISTMAS STORY is at once real and hilarious - depicting the ways family will both infuriate us and comfort us. Ralphie’s mom washes his mouth out with soap for swearing, then covers for him when he gets into a fight after school. Ralphie’s father is often emotionally absent and self-absorbed, yet comes through for him on Christmas day. It is remarkable how this film depicts the complexity of family in such an effortlessly funny way.
Every great story needs its hero, however, and Ralphie Parker is an “every-kid” - one could almost call him a pre-pubescent working-class hero. Perfectly portrayed by Peter Billingsley, we connect with Ralpie absolutely as he desperately pursues the one thing he wants for Christmas. Bob Clark wisely avoids making Ralphie overly cute or overly intelligent. He’s not bratty, sassy, or wise - he’s a kid. A normal, totally recognizable kid from any generation. He is focused absolutely on getting what he wants for Christmas. His ups, downs, triumphs, and tribulations as Christmas swirls around him are ours because as kids, we’ve all been there. We watch his family buy and put up the tree. We watch his family attend the town Christmas parade. We watch him visit Santa at a packed department store. We watch his family open presents on Christmas morning. This film doesn’t disdain these things. Indeed the film is loving towards them - and that is the key to why the films works so well.
So many Christmas movies and specials try to teach us what the ’real’ meaning of Christmas is. They try to tell us that the trappings of the holiday are illusionary and that Christmas is something more intangible. What A CHRISTMAS STORY gets that others don’t is that it is the trappings of the holiday that make the intangible tangible. It is the tree, the wreath, the lights that bring us into the holiday. It is the feasting and celebrating that bring us together. It is the giving (and receiving) of gifts that let us express love for each other. Far from being worthless, they are an indelible part of what Christmas is all about. A CHRISTMAS STORY is here to remind us. And it will for generations to come.
A CHRISTMAS STORY fun facts - Bob Clark and Jean Shepherd developed this film for ten years before it was finally green-lit.
Jack Nicholson was interested in playing Ralphie‘s father, but proved too expensive.
Flick‘s tongue was stuck to the flagpole using a suction tube hidden in the pole.
Mr. Parker - “Frah-Gee-Ley”. It must be Italian.
Ralphie - Only I didn’t say ‘fudge’. I said THE word. The big one. The queen mother of dirty words. The “F-dash-dash-dash” word!
Mr. Parker - NOT A FINGER!!