- Directed by: Clay Kaytis
- Starring: Peter Billingsley, Erinn Hayes, River Drosche, Julianna Layne, Julie Hagerty
- Comedy/Family | PG | 1 hr 38 min
- Streaming on HBO Max
By Reed Ripley
I distinctly remember the first time I heard the F word. I was around seven or eight years old, and it was at one of those Christmas parties your parents dragged you to outside the usual staples. The kids congregated in one room, and to my gleeful surprise, A Christmas Story was on. Of course, I’d seen it many times by then, but it was comforting to know I wouldn’t need to seek out whatever spare activities were available to fill time until my parents satisfied their social obligations.
Most of the movie went by without incident until the tire replacement scene in which Ralphie’s dad enlists the help of his son to change a tire on the side of the highway. Lug nuts go flying, Ralphie blurts out “Oh, fudge,” and he suffers the consequences. Of course, he didn’t say “fudge,” but also of course, the movie didn’t say the real word, either. Again, I had seen this chain of events many times, but this time, at this stranger’s Christmas party, there was a new variable: an intrepid 10-year-old next to me looking for an easy mark.
He slyly leaned over, with a twinkle of mischief in his eye, and whispered, do you want to know what he really said? Not wanting the label of ‘uncool’ new kid, I meekly responded affirmatively, and he cupped his hand over my ear and delivered a bonafide, unfiltered F bomb. All those prior viewings of that scene had built up the terrifying legend of this word in my mind, and when I heard it, it ripped through my consciousness like a banshee. I didn’t tell my parents, and the singe and dread of that word in my ear kept it out of my mouth for many years to come.
My story isn’t especially unique, but it’s exactly the genre of childhood memory that 1983’s A Christmas Story absolutely nailed. It’s a series of vignettes from a time in life where everything seemed bigger, scarier, and more exciting, smartly framed through wistful adult voiceovers. Throw in a holiday theme, and you’ve got a Christmas classic.
This year’s A Christmas Story Christmas doesn’t try to repackage the same nostalgic memory bomb as its predecessor. Rather, the film is about grappling with memories in a real way, and not just as faded impressions with residual emotions. After his father unexpectedly dies a couple days before Christmas, Ralphie (Peter Billingsley, reprising the role), packs his family up and heads back to his childhood home to give everyone a Christmas his father would be proud of.
Ralphie spends the whole film desperately trying to do so, and predictably, things go awry. But in the end, the effort is what counts, and Ralphie gets the beautiful Christmas he wanted. The father’s death and the family’s accompanying grief truly sets it apart from A Christmas Story, and that’s why it works. It’s the experience through which A Christmas Story’s narrator reengages and appreciates his childhood, and it makes the original all the more effective.
A Christmas Story Christmas could have just gone for a greatest hits medley and cashed in on nostalgia, but instead, it earnestly tried to say something about holding onto the warmth of Christmastime as an adult, as difficult as that may be. It’s quite funny at times, especially when it leans into jokes about the parental side of the holidays, and it’s got a big, winning heart.
Did sentimentality get the best of me and inflate my view of the film? Very possibly, but so what? The film hit a nerve, brought along some laughs (and a tear or two), and got me thinking about my childhood, and especially Christmastime, and new and fulfilling ways. That’s all I can ask of Ralphie and Co.