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12/26/17

A CHRISTMAS STORY - REVIEW


Released in 1983, A Christmas Story follows young boy Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) as he deals with school and his family during the holiday season, secretly hoping he'll receive a specific air rifle gun for Christmas.

Since the late 90's, this movie's popularity has increased quite a bit making it something of a cult classic. Through narration, an older Ralphie recounts the events of a particular Christmas during his childhood. This includes clashing with bullies, sucking up to teachers and playing with friends at school, trying to influence his family to buy him the controversial BB gun and meeting an intimidating mall Santa. In a memorable (if a tad bizarre) subplot, Ralphie's father, played with vaudevillian flair by Darren McGavin, wins an ugly leg-shaped lamp in a contest and insists on displaying it proudly in the house, much to his wife's (Melinda Dillon) chagrin. The film's title is a little misleading in that, while Christmas is an important part of the story, this isn't exactly the heartwarming Christmas movie you'd expect. This is more of a bittersweet look at childhood in general with events being told through Ralphie's point of view as grown-ups appear strange, irrational and unfair to him with the holiday as the backdrop, not so much the focus.

There's an awkwardness to almost every aspect of this movie from the performances to the cynical take on Christmas, the bizarre fantasy sequences, the often eyebrow-raising writing, the intrusive wide-angles, the occasional speeded up footage and the maybe too playful narration. This movie almost feels like a particularly mean-spirited holiday-themed episode of Malcolm In The Middle. While Ralphie is the main character and we see events through his eyes, the film never expects you to always be on his side since his quest for a toy weapon is peppered with constant warnings from others that it is a dangerous choice of present, which it is as he eventually finds out. Ralphie's expectations are seldom met and he's not a great friend to his schoolmates so he's not always likeable but, ultimately, he's a child with a lot to learn so you can't hold that against him too much. The tone of the film is surprisingly over-the-top, almost cartoonish at times and this might prove too manic, even off-putting to some. This story could have been told just as well without all the mugging and one-liners but it gives the film a Matilda-esque mood that's not always pleasant but works.

A Christmas Story is certainly a film about childhood that's worth watching, even if it's just once. As a Christmas movie however, it is rather overrated since, although it captures the awkward feel of the season very well, it never quite captures the appeal of it and ends up feeling a bit hollow.

Weird.

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