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A Christmas Story is one of those perfect holiday films that has become required viewing for some during the season. It captures that perfect sense of what it must mean to be a child around Christmastime and features a nice blend of humor and sentimentality that makes it easy to digest, all thanks to the comedic genius of writer Jean Shepherd.
The film is based on Shepherd’s book, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, as well as his other stories. Shepherd co-wrote the script and provided the narration, playing the grown-up version of our protagonist, Ralphie Parker. The main driving plot of the film is Ralphie’s desire to get the coveted Red Ryder BB gun. Of course, there’s much more than that, as the film covers Ralphie’s life with his parents and younger brother Randy. Some of the best parts of the film do not actually even involve Ralphie, like his parents' argument about the classic leg lamp or Randy’s refusal to eat food when told. The film is filled with these little vignettes that push the BB gun plot so far in the background that you almost forget it, even if it is really the driving force. It’s a truly fun MacGuffin, though.
While the adult actors may not be all that great, thankfully the children could not be any better. Peter Billingsley as Ralphie is as perfect as possible, with those great huge blue eyes that light up, making the payoff when he finally gets his BB gun all the better. Still, Ian Petrella as Randy is my favorite character. His scene where he is literally engulfed by a coat is priceless.
I also love the oddball dream sequences that Ralphie has, particularly the ode to silent comedy, with the under-cranked scene of burglars entering the Parker home. Stuff like this - odd scenes that have no point other than to provide a chuckle - are commonplace today thanks to Family Guy, but while the Family Guy jokes are overkill, these moments in A Christmas Story are short and sweet.
If there is one thing that hurts the film, it might be the final gags at the end. The perfect ending to the film would have been when Ralphie finally gets his wish. The trouble with that though is that, at that point, the film is just 85 minutes. While the following scenes of Ralphie having trouble firing the gun and the Chinese restaurant are cute, they seem tacked on just to bring the film to 93 minutes.
Still, most of us that have seen the film countless times can ignore that because of the final shot of Ralphie and Randy in their bed with their presents. It’s a lovely ending to a good film....and I still can’t believe this was directed by Bob Clark, the same man who gave us the first two Porky’s films.