March 29, 2023

Film Review: A Christmas Story Christmas

A CHRISTMAS STORY CHRISTMAS is the equivalent of a 90s TV reunion movie based on 70s TV show: it’s nice to see familiar characters again (when they’re played by the same actors from A CHRISTMAS STORY), but once our curiosity has been satisfied there’s no reason to keep watching, except in the hope it will amount to something. There’s no plot to speak of, the movie doesn’t follow the fractured, episodic nature of the original, and zero pathos is mined from the passing of the Old Man. It’s fun to see the 70s recreated, though. This is the latest production to convince me that when the masses are told to like something on Netflix or Amazon they will obey; that seeing something “first” somehow equates seeing something good. If you’d like to see some authentic Jean Shepherd sequels, there’s plenty out there.

The original Bob Clark film was co-written and narrated by Shepherd based on semiautobiographical stories featured in his book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Did you know it was Shepherd’s third adaptation of his Parker family stories, though? This “legacy” sequel currently streaming isn’t based on any of Shepherd’s stories; it’s just an excuse for the underworked cast members to make some holiday money (I’ve worked with two of them on different projects). Peter Billingsley is good as the adult Ralphie, and does surprisingly well taking over Shepherd’s narration. It’s weird seeing Julie Hagerty play his mother, as Melinda Dillon played the “original” character, but I guess it’s “mission accomplished” if an out of-work-actor gets a check.

Shepherd’s other movies were primarily made for TV, each featuring a different cast as the Parkers. He wrote and narrated THE PHANTOM OF THE OPEN HEARTH in 1976 and THE GREAT AMERICAN FOURTH OF JULY AND OTHER DISASTERS (Matt Dillon as teenage Ralphie!) in 1982. A CHRISTMAS STORY was released in theaters one year later, and THE STAR CROSSED ROMANCE OF JOSEPHINE COSNOWSKI followed in 1985, and OLLIE HOPNOODLE’S HAVEN OF BLISS (James B. Sikking as the Old Man) in 1988. All of the above titles were produced for PBS, with really cheap video production values, and can be found on YouTube.

Shepherd and Clark reteamed for a direct-to-video sequel to A CHRISTMAS STORY, IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY, in 1994, later re-released as MY SUMMER STORY. This one starred Charles Grodin, Mary Steenburgen, and Kieran Culkin and received decent reviews.

Let’s not forget A CHRISTMAS STORY 2, starring Daniel Stern, another “official” sequel, released in 2012. Or better, let’s forget it: like A CHRISTMAS STORY CHRISTMAS, this one isn’t based on Shepherd’s stories, and isn’t narrated by him. Hard pass on that one. It should be noticed that over the course of the authentic Shepherd films, Ralphie comes of age; we see the Old Man come to respect him, and Shepherd sometimes played the middle aged Ralphie on camera as a framing device.

Gregory Lamberson is the director of nine feature films and the author of 15 published books. His most recent release is the action film GUNS OF EDEN, now available on DVD and VOD.

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