A Christmas Story
If I had to pick the one film that brightens my day no matter what time of year it is, it would be A Christmas Story. And, to be brutally frank about it, A Christmas Story is quite possibly one of the funniest movies I've ever seen.
The story revolves around a little kid named Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), and his quest for a particular gift one Christmas. Ralphie wants an "official Daisy Red Ryder BB-gun with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time." But like most of us kids, how do you convince your folks that a BB gun is a good gift? When your mom (Melinda Dillon) is slightly addled from her life as a housewife, and your father (Darren McGavin) is obsessed with working on the furnace and winning contests in the newspaper, the direct approach really doesn't work. And your friends are no help 'cause they're too busy debating the important issues of the day, like whether or not your tongue will stick to a flagpole when it's cold. And your little brother? Well, let's just say your little brother has his own problems.
I can't begin to tell you just how charming this movie is, and "charming" is not a word I throw around a lot. Thinking on it, the biggest star in this movie is Darren McGavin, and his claim to fame is as the frumpy star of the Night Stalker series, so he's not a major player on the Christmas circuit. Peter Billingsley was best known as the kid on those "Messy Marvin" Hershey's syrup commercials. No great fame there, either. Melinda Dillon was in Close Encounters and has a couple of Oscar nominations in her pocket, but few people can put a face to her name. So, then, why is this thing so brilliant?
Thank the most unlikely director, Bob Clark, a man whose only major gift to cinema was the original teen sex film, Porky's. Yes, the man who made the Porky's movies made a Christmas classic. He is working with the writings of a very funny man named Jean Shepherd, who acts the narrator of this film, the grown-up voice of Ralphie. Shepherd's voice itself is funny, and it lends a certain down-home honesty to the nostalgic look and feel of the film.
What makes this whole thing click perfectly, though, is the simple fact that the story hits home for everyone who watches it, no matter how old you are. Every kid has had some unattainable want at Christmas, and has had his mouth washed out with soap, and has stuck his tongue to a frozen flagpole (or maybe that one was just me.) Every kid thinks his parents are a little crazy, and every kid has faced bullies at school. Every kid can remember the relative who always sent some stupid gift of clothes when all you wanted was toys. And, yes, every kid can remember the first time he or she let slip some forbidden curse word in front of a grownup, and realizing just as the word is spoken that you didn't mean to say it out loud.
If you've never seen A Christmas Story, you have missed a real unique treat. I accept and honor your traditions of A Christmas Carol, or White Christmas, or Miracle on 34th Street, but if you want a movie the whole family will enjoy -- and even laugh at -- no matter what their age, you cannot go wrong with A Christmas Story. Check it out, and have a merry one, friends and neighbors.