A Christmas Story is a 1983 Christmas comedy film directed by Bob Clark, best known for films such as ‘Murder by Decree’ and ‘Tribute’. Based on a semi-fictional anecdote by author Jean Shepherd, the plot centres on a nine-year-old in Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) and his quest to convince his parents into getting him a BB gun for Christmas.
Acting and Character performances.
Before Lindsey Lohan or even McCaulay Culkin, there was an extra-ordinary child actor in Peter Billingsley who despite his tender age at the time of this movie’s shooting and release, had already been involved in other notable films like ‘Paternity’ and ‘Death Valley’. His performance as Ralphie Parker was exceptional; this young boy hell-bent on doing whatever he can to acquire the much coveted item that many children in his neighbourhood desired, a BB gun dubbed the “Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle.” In fact, he is so obsessed over it that he has frequent day-dreams about how his life would be if he had it case in point how he’d stop a robbery at their house while using it.
Time and time again, his pleas to get the BB gun fall on deaf ears and the rejection that comes with that goes on to affect his personal life considerably. A good example of this is when he attacks one of his neighbourhood bullies after realizing his school teacher gave his essay on ‘What I want for Christmas’ a grade C; an essay he hoped would somehow persuade the teacher to persuade his parents into getting him his desired toy gun. My greatest takeaway from Billingsley performance for me was how he grounded his character and explored his flaws in a way any audience member can relate with.
Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon were equally good as Ralphie’s parents; they adequately fleshed out their characters and I understood what they were all about not only as caregivers but also as human beings in the personal struggles they go through. Of the two, Darren McGavin’s character Mr. Parker a.k.a The Old Man’ had more flaws in that he is short-tempered and can be ticked off by things that most people would essentially slip under the rug. Additionally, much like his son Ralphie, he also has his own obsession with a table lamp shaped like a woman’s leg. Upon its ‘accidental’ destruction at the hands of his wife, he scolds her as though she had broken the one thing that makes him complete. That scene, among many others that Mr. Parker features in just pulled me closer and closer to the character and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Melinda as Ralphie’s mom deserves just as much recognition as Darren and it’s no surprise why. In a family that has as much issues as the one she is in, her character is pretty much the voice of reason on all fronts as you would expect in any other family unit out there and I, of course, was captivated by that. There’s also another character that I dare not leave out and it’s Ralphie’s brother Flick, played by Scott Schwartz. In spite of his little screen time, it’s hard not to connect with the character’s adorable nature and you can tell the actor playing him was having the time of his life.
The Plot, Merits and Demerits.
Straight off the bat, I’d say the story adapted here, though semi-fictional, was everything I needed from a Christmas movie and I am sure anyone who has seen this film echoes my thoughts. Unless you have been living under a rock for your whole life, you’d know that Christmas is everyone’s favourite holiday by default. It’s a time of the year when friends and family, more so family, get together to celebrate the birth of Christ and also to celebrate each other.
All this film had to be in order to be a success was to stay true to its title and bring forth a compelling and authentic story about the holiday through the lens of this humble family living in a suburban neighbourhood. Did the movie succeed in the latter? Yes, it did. Of course it did. Right from minute one, the jolly and frenzied mood of Christmas is set with children running around everywhere in heavy clothing playing in the snowy environment; a mood that Jean Shepherd’s narration added more flesh to and I found that quite clever from a directorial standpoint.
I loved the story in this movie because for me, it had a deeper meaning that transcended Ralphie’s efforts to acquire his Bb gun. It perfectly highlights how engrossed we human beings can be in our pursuit for earthly possessions that we forget the important things in life; in this case it’s family and the essence of Christmas. A holiday that requires people to be good to one another, something that Ralphie struggles with for a better part of the film.
The production design and cinematography is awesome and inclusive; there’s not much complexity with the camera movement since the scenes are mostly shot in closed quarters i.e the Parker house and the school that Ralphie goes to. Nonetheless, the camera pans, tilts or dollies when it’s ideally supposed to and it is placed in really clever places to bring the best out of what is going on in various scenes.
My only gripe with the movie is the fact that the dialogue and humour can occasionally get too campy, to a point where certain scenes sound and feel like they have been shot on a Broadway stage or something; no offense to Broadway by the way.
A Christmas Story is your typical holiday movie which you should definitely check out if you haven’t already. It’s a motion-picture that doesn’t take itself seriously because it’s main goal is to communicate to you the viewer about what the annual holiday should be all about. I enjoyed doing this review and please stay tuned for more Christmas special retro-reviews in the coming weeks. Cheers.