It’s hard to believe that Christmas is only a few days away. As we all scramble to pick up those last minute gifts, finally put up the tree, brave the expressways and airports, and try not be the annual lush at the office holiday party, there is one thing we know we can count on to escape from hustle and bustle for anywhere from 93 minutes to 24 hours.
The all-day A Christmas Story marathon on TBS on December 24th!
Yes, every year we revisit Ralphie and join him on his quest for that Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. We share in his disappointment at every “You’ll shoot your eye out” dismissal, laugh at Randy not being able to put his arms down, and cheer when yellow-eyed Scut Farkus finally gets his comeuppance. It’s almost as if we visit the Parker family every Christmas right along with our own relatives.
I really don’t think it’s necessary to further summarize the plot because if you have never seen A Christmas Story, well, how could you have never seen A Christmas Story? It’s pretty much impossible. I can’t pinpoint the exact first time I saw it, but I can’t remember it ever not being a part of my holiday season. This is thanks in a large part to multiple television airings eventually resulting in the TNT (and later TBS) network airing 24-hour marathons. Now, nearly thirty years after its theatrical release, A Christmas Story has reached icon status complete with its own line of merchandise including leg lamps and Snuggies.
What makes A Christmas Story such a beloved classic worthy of so many repeat viewings is the perfect combination of laughs, memorable characters, and heart. It’s never too saccharine but never too naughty either. Set in the late 1930’s/early 1940’s, it emits a Norman Rockwell-esque charm of a simpler, more innocent era, but at the same time, reminds us that people did say “Oh, fuck!” back then too.
There were even Bad Santas before Billy Bob Thornton.
The screenplay, based on the short stories of humorist Jean Shepherd and directed by Bob Clark (Porky’s, really) strikes the perfect balance. And though the film is set far in the past, the situations are universally relatable. Who doesn’t remember wanting that one special present for Christmas? Or praying that you dodge that awful bully on the way home from school? Daring that one kid to do something really dumb because you know they will? Being that one kid that gets dared to do something really dumb because they know you will? (Rocks DO NOT taste like candy.)
Of course, no matter how well written and directed, without the perfect cast a film will suffer, but A Christmas Story strikes gold there too. Each actor is so pitch-perfect it’s easy to forget they’re not an actual real-life family. No matter how old Peter Billingsley gets, he will always be Ralphie the same way Jonathan Lipnicki will always be the kid from Jerry Maguire and Macaulay Culkin will always be Macaulay Culkin. When Ralphie’s big blue eyes light up for the first time at the mention of his coveted gift, we’re with the kid all the way and want to see him get that damn gun.
Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon both give comically brilliant performances, and are probably my favorite movie parents of all time (even edging out the Griswolds). Shepherd himself narrates the film as adult Ralphie so masterfully that the storytelling method inspired an entire television series (The Wonder Years). The supporting cast of chldren are all spot-on too, especially Zach Ward (who apparently grew up to be Danny Bonaduce ) as bully Scut Farkus.
Do you hear the Peter and the Wolf song in your head when you look at this picture too?
While many movies have one or two memorable scenes and/or lines, The Christmas Story has dozens; just about every scene is quotable. The film is really a series of vignettes. This may be the reason it’s so popular in the marathon format. A person can just switch it on and say “Oh look, it’s on the leg lamp part!” Or, “they’re fixing the flat, ‘ohh fuuuuu-dge’ is coming up!” Or if you’re me, “Cool, here comes my favorite part of the whole movie!”:
One of the greatest characters in the history of cinema.
But in between the major laughs, there are small human moments that balance out the slapstick and give us a glimpse into a family that genuinely loves each other underneath all the hijinks and bickering: Ralphie’s mom guiltily tasting the Lifebouy. The “Old Man” looking on in sweet anticipation as Ralphie opens that one last gift. Even bratty little Randy being legitimately concerned for his brother’s fate while hiding under the counter.
Parts such as these are where the magic of the film truly lies and what makes it feel so real. There are no grandiose displays of affection, no running through the streets yelling “Merry Christmas!” to strangers, just a family sitting around a table on Christmas Day sharing a laugh at how funny it is that Chinese people can’t pronounce their “l’s.” And that’s what life really is, those little moments that become cherished memories.
And laughing at people that talk funny.