Skeptic Vs. Gen X Nostalgia: Round 11 – A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story would seem to be a more appropriate movie for my December round of the series than the November round what with its yuletide theme, and it is, but I’m hoping to do something a bit more epic for the final round so the Christmas movie will have to be looked at a month early.  This is also a little different from the other movies that have populated this review series in that it’s not really a Spielberg influenced blockbuster attempt and also because it was more of a cult hit that would become more famous long after the 80s were over. That isn’t to say that it was a bomb when it came out in 1983, it made twenty million dollars on a three million dollar budget and that’s a decent return, but it didn’t exactly take the world by storm.  The film’s rise to fame was actually not dissimilar from that of The Shawshank Redemption in that it sort of came and went in theaters but really became famous when for whatever reason basic cable got its hands on it and people started catching on.  Actually TV programers seem to have had a lot of influence over what movies become “holiday classics,” a similar thing happened to It’s a Wonderful Life as it was adopted as cheap Christmas programing on PBS stations.  According to A Christmas Story’s Wikipedia page (which has a rather detailed account of the film’s broadcast history), the Turner networks didn’t really get their hands on the movie until the mid-90s when I would have been about eight and neither I nor my parents must have been privy its increasing audience because it never became a Christmas tradition in my house, which is part of why I never gave it a shot until now.

Another part of why I hadn’t really seen the movie up to now is that I kind of hate Christmas movies… which is probably an extension of the fact that I think Christmas as a holiday is a load of humbug.  It’s a holiday that’s fun when you’re a kid and you need your parents to get you the coolest toys but once you’re old enough to buy your own shit it immediately becomes a complete waste of time.  The fact that Christmas has become this three month marketing extravaganza with its own music and movies dedicated to it becomes more and more annoying to me every year.  I don’t get it.  Fortunately this movie doesn’t seem wildly invested in the season’s cornier aspects either.  It seems to realize that kids are only really interested in Christmas for the most materialistic of reasons, that it’s often a complete pain in the ass for their parents, and that mall Santas are often just cranky old minimum wage earning slobs.  So there’s certainly an attitude here I can vibe with, but I wasn’t so into was the film’s sense of humor.  The film is in many ways the creation of a guy named Jean Shepherd, who has been described as a “storyteller” and radio personality who made a career of telling mildly funny stories about his childhood… so he was basically the David Sedaris of the 80s.  Shepherd’s appeal seems to be in his folksy observations about his hometown and family and yet the film keeps leaning towards some oddly broad gags like the father’s strange pride in a novelty sexy lamp, which I find more weird than funny.

Ultimately what fuels A Christmas Story is probably nostalgia, although it is somewhat curious that it’s a nostalgia for a time period that was pretty far back.  The usual expectation is that nostalgia is supposed to exist on a 20 year cycle.  The 1970s was supposed to be nostalgic for the 50s (American Graffiti) and the 1990s was supposed to be nostalgic for the 70s (Dazed and Confused), but the 1980s was supposed to be nostalgic for the 60s but this is set in the early 1940s.  People who were Ralphie’s age during the time this was set would have been in their 50s in 1983, and people in their 50s generally aren’t the target market for Hollywood films.  However, even audiences that don’t remember Little Orphan Annie decoder rings and Red Ryder air rifles they probably do remember the disappointment of having bought some other ripoff or some other toy they absolutely had to have.  The movie doesn’t necessarily hit this nostalgia wave in an overly profound or critical way, and at times it just kind of feels like a series of sketches, but I do more or less see the appeal.  I don’t know that I’ll be returning to this in any future Christmases, but it’s pretty alright.

To the Scorecard:

Does this movie live up to the hype?  Not exactly, or at least I certainly don’t see much of a reason that this thing deserves to have ever been broadcast for 24 hours straight by a cable network when other Christmas movies of similar quality are readily available.  That said, the movie is cute and entertaining for the most part and I get why people would mostly like it.


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