NOW ON HBO MAX! A Christmas Story is a holiday staple, filled with iconic scenes that are seared into our collective consciousness through both laughter and repeated viewings. The most iconic one is the triple dog dare, memorably leading to a kid’s tongue being stuck frozen to a pole. So the supreme challenge for the writer-director of A Christmas Story Christmas, Clay Kaytis, and co-writers Jean Shepard, Nick Schenk, and Peter Billingsley (who is also the star) is how do you recreate the magic for a second time?
This is a similar challenge that Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) faces in the film when he’s tasked with writing his father’s obituary but struggles to find the right words. The answer to the question is the same for both: If you’re too focused on perfection, it may never get done.
The story is set thirty-three years after the first film, in 1973 Chicago, but it’s been thirty-nine years in real time since the movie was released in 1983. Ralphie Parker is all grown up now, with a family of his own. A Christmas Story excelled at painting a picture of the hardships of childhood frighteningly and hilariously, while A Christmas Story Christmas, much like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, shows the funny holiday horrors of what it’s like to be the head of a household.
“Ralphie makes a deal with his wife…he’ll give up his dream if he’s not published by the end of the year.”
Little Ralphie was obsessed with obtaining a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, but grown-up Ralphie is all about becoming a writer now. Ralphie makes a deal with his wife, Sandy (Erinn Hayes) that he’ll give up his dream if he’s not published by the end of the year. He still loves to daydream, except now it’s about winning a Pulitzer Prize while on television. The writing obsession doesn’t lend itself to laughs the way the BB gun did, but it does pay off with a nice dramatic touch by the end.
It’s cool to see Peter Billingsley, after all of these years, inhabiting the character that he made timelessly appealing. The same goes for the other actors who came back, such as Zack Ward as, arguably, the greatest movie bully of all time: the sneering and scary, yellow-eyed Scut Farkus. The filmmakers came up with a fun twist for Farkus, which is my favorite moment of the film. Flick (Scott Schwartz), the aforementioned kid who got dared into a frozen tongue, now owns a bar, and Schwartz (RD Robb), the one who dared him, has a large, running tab there. There’s a fun scene where the roles are reversed on a dare in an attempt to try to clear the bar tab.
There are some amusing moments, but the heartfelt ones are what carry A Christmas Story Christmas. Ralphie having to deal with the death of the “Old Man” and the dilemma of trying to buy Christmas presents for his kids without much money are prime examples of what being a “grown-up” is all about. Kaytis finds the right balance between the comedy and drama as well.
This isn’t an instant holiday classic like the first film, but it doesn’t have to be. My biggest gripe is that it is slow at times, especially in the first half. Although, it eventually finds its footing on the way to a fine finish. Fans of A Christmas Story, and those simply in the mood for a holiday flick, will enjoy A Christmas Story Christmas for the light, nicely touching tale that it is in its own right, without the pressure of having to be as perfect as something as legendary as the leg lamp.
"…some amusing moments, but the heartfelt ones are what carry A Christmas Story Christmas."