A Christmas Story is one of those movies that will never go away. It’s a bona fide holiday classic. A Christmas Story is loaded with comedy, family togetherness, and a sense of wonder that many family-oriented films can’t match. In fact, there is no other film that has so flawlessly nailed what it’s like to be a kid on Christmas.
Peter Billingsley plays Ralphie, a kid who wants nothing more than an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. It’s a simple request, but one that causes nothing but grief as Ralphie struggles to make his point. Sadly, Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifles have a small problem:
You could shoot your eye out.
That now iconic line is the stuff of film legend. However, it would mean nothing in a lesser movie, and A Christmas Story is anything but. It works on every possible level. Families have a wonderful story of holiday mayhem, kids see their own wishes come true, and the sense of imagination is handled with incredible care. It’s hard to believe director Bob Clark came from Porky’s into this.
There are two things that separate Christmas Story and made it what it is (and neither of them are the usual Turner TV all-day replays during the holidays). One is Billingsley’s performance, who acts better than nearly any other child actor you can think of. There’s a sense of wonder and a glow in his eyes that’s incredibly natural, and his facial expressions sell every line.
Secondly, Jean Sheperd’s narration. It’s not that the dialogue doesn’t have some wonderfully funny lines, but Sheperd adds that extra touch. Quotes like “My little brother had not eaten voluntarily in over three years,” carry the scene through to huge laughs as opposed to minor chuckles. The performance is pure comedy gold, and sells the action on screen more so than the action itself.
When the big day comes, it’s either a feeling of warm nostalgia from your own Christmases as a child or a sense of wonder if you’re in the same age group as Ralphie. It’s not manipulative or overdone, and the chaos to follow ensures it’s not all about winning the audience over. Even given the time frame of the film (taking place sometime in the ‘40s), it’s timeless and could never go out of style.