Though many consider “A Christmas Story” an ode to good old fashioned consumerism, director Bob Clark’s family film is much more about down to Earth themes. Who among us hasn’t wanted that great toy for Christmas that was out of our grasps? Every single person on Earth can empathize with the tale of Ralphie, a bespectacled young boy who wants the ultimate Christmas present. What makes “A Christmas Story” such a universal holiday film is that Ralphie is not a kid that expects his gift. He does everything it takes to earn his Red Ryder BB Gun, short of stealing it.
“A Christmas Story” is one of the most simplistic but entertaining Christmas films that doesn’t mind poking fun at the eccentricities of the holidays. Though Director Clark is never afraid to be funny or demented, deep down it’s a tale about family, and love. Ralphie’s family garners their own quirks and mild dysfunctions, but they love one another deep down. It’s never made more apparent during the film where Ralphie and his little brother Danny are constantly fighting one another. Mid-way when Ralphie finally beats up the neighborhood bully, Danny hides in a cabinet whimpering at the prospect of Ralphie’s dad “The Old Man” coming home to hit Ralphie for getting in to a fight. And though Mother Parker is often the long suffering matriarch, she’s also the unsung hero who helps the men in her life, though they almost never realize it.
Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin are at their best here, presenting the chemistry of a couple that’s fit in to their own routines and rituals, but have that spark of passion when they’re alone. Dillon’s eye rolls and groans at the chaos in her life are often complimented by McGavin’s oh so subtle double takes and comical responses to his daily scenarios. Peter Billingsley is also excellent as the imaginative, often wide eyed young boy who dreams of owning the Red Ryder BB Gun, the weapon from his favorite radio show. From the moment we meet him, he dreams of owning the gun, and then begins strategizing various ways to own one for Christmas.
He figures out many unusual, often hilarious means, including talking to Santa, writing an essay for school, and sub-consciously hinting toward his parents. Many of the scenarios are often disastrous, while director Clark is able to keep the audience at the level of Ralphie’s own view of the world. Billingsley as Ralphie gives a very unassuming performance free of cutesy dialogue and attempts to lull the audience in to submission with sugary sweetness. Ralphie is pretty much just a model for every young child whose obsession with that one golden toy was once considered charming part of Christmas, all the while keeping him a lovable and charming protagonist.
When he walks up to Santa in a terror filled gaze, we can understand his stunned silence, and when he finally lashes out at the local bully only to be brought back to his senses by his mom with a tearful response, we can understand his sadness. Director Clark who churned out another off the wall Christmas classic with “Black Christmas,” doesn’t just chronicle Ralphie’s own mission for his Red Ryder BB Gun, but also explores other facets of the world and family around him. From the classic incident with the frozen flag pole, The Old Man’s feud with Mother Parker over the tacky leg lamp, right down to the Christmas dinner at the local Chinese restaurant, “A Christmas Story” is never boring, and holds up wonderfully to repeated viewings. In a sub-genre often clogged with religious or melodramatic holiday fare, “A Christmas Story” is a light and fantastic Christmas treat you want to re-visit time and time again.