Bonus Holiday Review: A Christmas Story

a-christmas-story-2[1]Being Christmas and all I just had the chance to watch the annual favorite A Christmas Story (it is on 48 hours non-stop Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on TBS).

Well friends, I think it is worthy of such a marathon.  In fact, I think it is one of the best portrayals of childhood ever in the movies.  That’s right I will be that bold.

Yes it is funny but it has such heart and I relate to little Ralphie very strongly.

paker-family-christmas-storOne of the great things about it is it is a couple weeks in the life of an ordinary family in the 30s.  When you really think about it they pack a ton of story into one movie.  The main plot is of course Ralphie’s desire to have a red ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle for Christmas and all the adults in his life telling him ‘you will shoot your eye out’.

ralphi eand gunBut the subplots surrounding the air rifle are many and varied. We have Flick and the ice, Ralphie and his theme, the snow suit, the decoder pin, Ralphie’s Dad and the furnace and dogs, the Chinese restaurant, the pink bunny suit, the major award, Ralphie f-boming to his old man, I could go on.

But my favorite part is a subplot involving Scut Farkus and Grover Dill, the local bully and toadie.  Peter Billingsley, who plays Ralphie, is so good in this scene and as someone who was bullied pretty badly it always gets to me.

It’s a terrific child actor performance and really moving when you think about the kind of trauma such a situation really is for a kid. It is no small thing. I love that Grover says ‘I’m telling my Dad’.  That’s such good writing.

I also just LOVE his mother in these scenes played by Melinda Dillion.  When she smooths things over with Dad and squeezes his arm it is such a touching moment between mother and son.

ralphie upset

Like Home Alone Christmas Story is a movie that takes children seriously.  Perhaps it is partly the dry wit yet warm narration that endears us to the story, helps us get inside the head of Ralphie but he is never treated like an idiot for being a kid.  In fact, he is often the smartest one in the room.


There’s a real innocence to the picture that I love.  I mean who can’t relate to betting your friends to do stupid things or that first time your parents catch you saying a naughty word?  Most of us can.  Most of us had Mothers who bundled us up too much for the winter and fathers who had their eccentric ways. christmas story stickI feel like a modern movie would put in a lot more silliness and be less grounded.  We’d get strange pets and falls into swimming pools (and that slapstick can work as we see in Home Alone so it just depends).  But Christmas Story has such heart and it at least rings true for the childhood in me.

soap christmas storyIt’s so well written too.  The narration is done by Jean Shepherd who wrote the book the movie was based on and I have to tell you I’ve read the book and not near as funny or endearing as the movie. But his commentary is very well written and exactly what an adult would say when looking both cynically and nostalgically at his past.

But there are lots of little moments in the script that are brilliant.  For instance, Ralphie is approached by The Wicked Witch while waiting to talk to Santa.  He looks at her and says ‘go away.  I’m thinking’.  That is totally the kind of kid I was.  I was social.  I had friends just like Ralphie but I also had a contemplative, independent streak.

ralphieI also love the moment when Randy is upset over the bullying incident and the Mom finds him hiding in the dresser set.  That’s just the kind of thing my sister would have done (My Dad was a total softee but if something big like that had happened she would have hidden away).  I love that the Mom brings him his milk in the cubbard and let’s him stay there. Perfect.

Old-Man-Admiring-Major-AwardThe major award also totally rings true for me.  My Father is a very passionate excitable guy.  If he won a major award he would probably be equally excited.  It’s those simple things in family life that can be the most humorous when looking back on them and that’s essentially what the narrator is doing.  It’s hilarious and just lovely.

ralphies-bunny-suit-pajamas-from-aunt-clara-4The pink bunny suit is also hilarious.  How many of us also got that one gift from a distant relative that we didn’t want to wear?  I certainly did.  It’s a funny well written scene that most of us can empathize with. Love it.

I love it is Father who gets him the air rifle.  It shows he is listening all along and shows a tenderness we hadn’t gotten since then.  What a lucky kid Ralphie is to have such a wonderful family!

christmas story parentsFinally, I love this movie because it is set in Indiana and shows the tough but sweet side of my Hoosier friends.  Even Ralphie’s fantasies feel like the kind of daydreaming a kid would actually do.  It all just works for me.

I love it.  It makes me cry throughout and laugh.  It is a wonderful movie and I’m glad it gets seen by so many every Christmas.

hqdefaultralphie slide

Overall Grade- A+ (Great writing, acting, heart, humor. Perfect)

It’s amazing it was directed by Bob Clark who helmed such classics as Baby Geniuses 1 and 2 and the Porky’s movies which are so lame and crass.  I guess it’s the 1 hit wonder of directing.  Wonderful job!

The abhorrent sequel recently produced one of the Nostalgia Critics best reviews.  (language warning)


nostalgic movies

Watching all these Christmas movies has got me thinking about nostalgia.  Often especially during the holidays we can get accused of liking something ‘for nostalgia purposes only’.  Everyone is guilty of this for one reason or another, but I often find there is more to the story than the accusation would suggest.

What is nostalgia?  Well, it is defined as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations”

So for example I lived for 3 years with 2 roommates in the basement apartment of a house.  We had many good times at that house and when I drive by it I am often overwhelmed by nostalgia for that period of  my life.  Now those friends have married and I don’t see them as much as I would like.  It is a time in the past that I miss and look back fondly on.

I’m not a psychology expert. but I think nostalgia is actually healthy as long as it doesn’t make us forget the blessings of the present because we are idealizing the past.  I did that once on my mission where I moved to a new area and all I could think about was how life changing the old area was.  My companions had to sit me down and say ‘Lafayette was great but we’ve got to work here now in Indy”, which I did and it was awesome!

That said,  it is good to be able to look back at our lives and remember the good times.  Remember with fondness all the love and happiness we shared, especially if those people have passed on.  So nostalgia can be quite powerful and motivating in our lives.

But let’s stick to entertainment. Like experiences, we can also have nostalgia for films.  A particular movie meant something to us or is associated with an era or person in our lives, and so we remember it with ‘wistful affection’.

I believe if you enjoy the movie it doesn’t really matter whether it is nostalgia or not.  It’s kind of like taking a placebo for depression.  If it helps your depression who cares if it is a sugar pill?  Better is better.  Enjoyment is enjoyment.

The only difference is it is usually impossible to pass on that nostalgia to other people so it can feel frustrating when they do not share your ‘wistful affection’.  In fact, it can even seem insulting because the film and the time in your life are so interconnected insulting one, feels like an insult to you and your moment in time.

Here is a funny clip from my favorite show How I Met Your Mother about when people don’t get your nostalgic movies (excuse the bad clip but it will give you the idea)

There is however a distinction I would like to make:

In nostalgia we have 2 kinds of experiences.  The first are films that really aren’t good that we have nostalgia for.  The second is films that are good and were important to us in the past (probably because they are so good)

For example, many people have nostalgia for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, ET and The Goonies.   Those are all legitimately good movies that I remember fondly too.  Whereas, say someone has nostalgia for Howard the Duck? That film doesn’t have the same inherent quality of content argument as Star Wars…

Here’s some examples from my life:

Cutting Edge vs Footloose-  Both of these films would be considered by me as ‘sleepover movies’.  They were the kind of movies my girlfriends and I liked to watch at sleepovers.  Other favorites were Dirty Dancing, Fame, Grease, Dance with Me, Bring it On, Save the Last Dance (dancing in general was a popular theme of these sleepovers for some reason).  The Cutting Edge is a silly movie that I have nostalgia for.  It’s completely predictable and stupid but it’s about the Olympics that I love and skating and there is pretty good chemistry between its stars, but it would  definitely be a bad movie I have nostalgia for and enjoy (I have it on blu-ray!).

Footloose on the other hand I also have nostalgia for but I actually think is a good movie.  It is well written with an interesting discussion about religion, safety, freedom of choice and some terrific choreography and music.  I watched it again not that long ago and was surprised how dark it gets.  All that definitely went over my head but I liked it then and I like it now.  Definitely a good nostalgia movie.

christmasBeverly Hills 90210 vs Boy Meets World-  We were not allowed to watch 90210 when I was a kid because it was considered too adult by my Mom- probably rightfully so.  But nevertheless I have a certain nostalgia for it.  When I could sneak it I enjoyed it and I enjoy it now even though it is totally soapy and stupid and poorly acted.  It went on for like 10 years and especially near the end when I was on my own I really got into it even though I knew it was kind of terrible.

Boy Meets World on the other hand I was allowed to watch and I sincerely think it is a great show.  Yes it is extreme cornball but it has such heart, it teaches good messages, has an appealing cast and the acting is not half bad.  I love it and I love Girl Meets World, so it’s good nostalgia in my book!

christmas2Clueless vs Girls Just Want to Have Fun- We’ve got two more sleepover movies.  Girls Just Want to Have Fun is a stupid movie about girls who want to make a dance show (again with the dancing!).  But I still enjoy it.  It’s charming in its own way and has an appealing cast.  Definitely bad but I enjoy it for nostalgia purposes.

Clueless on the other hand is the nostalgia movie of my high school experience, and I think it is one of the best written comedies ever made.  It makes me laugh to this day.  Things like Cher’s speech on the Haitians and the garden party or the scene where Dion drives on the freeway for the first time crack me up.  I have strong nostalgia for it but it is also genuinely a good movie.

christmas1Some might claim they can be more objective than those of us who have nostalgia for films or shows,  but I don’t think that is the case.  If I acknowledge I have the nostalgia and can say if it is good or bad despite my sentimental feelings how is that not the peak of objectivity?  I am able to look at it and say ‘I love it but I know it isn’t very good’.  That is objective!  If I tried to defend it as good when it really isn’t than you’d have a point.  If I like something on this blog because of nostalgia I will tell you.  Like I admitted upfront I was going to have a hard time reviewing Little Mermaid because I am sooooo attached to it and it meant so much to me as a little girl.  I still think I was objective but maybe not as critical as I was on things that didn’t have the same personal value.  But that is the exception to the rule.  Most films I look at with the same perspective and eyes and can objectively say whether I like it for nostalgia or other reasons.

Just to sum it all up- we all have movies that are nostalgic for us when we watch them.  They remind us of eras of our lives, particularly childhood and if we enjoy the experience of watching them than who cares? Enjoy watching them for whatever reason you want.  Just don’t expect others to experience the same whimsey and delight.  Also, there are films we have nostalgia for that are actually good movies and others that are pretty bad.  It’s important to see that difference and not discount something merely because it is a sentimental favorite.

Especially at Christmas many of us have nostalgia for It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Christmas Story and Christmas Carol etc but those are great movies so watch and remember all the good times you’ve had over the holidays with these wonderful nostalgic movies.

I will add too that Perks of Being a Wallflower is the first movie I’ve seen as an adult that felt really nostalgic for me, so nostalgia doesn’t have to be a movie from our past.  It could have been filmed in my high school amongst my friends and I LOVE it so much.  I saw it at least 5 times in the theater because I kept taking my friends, twice in one week.  It spoke to me and excited me in a way no other movie has in years. I think the writing is great, acting great, and the story is so moving, funny, sad, scary, just perfect. One of my all time favorites.  Definite nostalgic but still very good movie!

perks of wallflower