A Christmas Story Christmas (2022)

I'll start by saying upfront that anyone who loves the original is probably going to love this. It does an admirable job of recreating the look, sound, and feel of the 1983 film, which takes skill, time, and care. This is a movie created with love for fans.

And I am most certainly not one of them. I have no nostalgic connection to the original, and I don't find the experience of sitting through it at all enjoyable. So it should come as no surprise that I didn't much like this one either.

That's not the same as the movie being bad. In a real sense, this is a good movie. It set out to do something that couldn't have been easy, and it succeeded in its goal. Taking a step back, I respect what they achieved, even if I didn't enjoy it. At all. Seriously, I found this a chore to sit through, and - in case anyone needs to be reminded - I'm the guy enthusiastically watching dozens of adaptations of A Christmas Carol this year.

Because not enough people are angry with me yet, I will add I consider this a far better movie than the original. It's an open debate whether A Christmas Story's decentralized narrative was ultimately a bug or a feature (the fact you could leave it on in the background, only catching a scene here or there, without impacting the experience almost certainly helped it gain its foothold as a piece of Americana), but it certainly feels like a strike against it as a film. This movie somewhat impressively found a way to integrate that effect while still having a story arc to pull the whole thing together.

The arc in question centers on Ralphie, now an adult pursuing his dream of becoming a writer, trying to save Christmas in the aftermath of his father's death. There's a great deal more in the way of subplots and asides, similar to those in the original, but they tend to meander back to the Old Man's death and memory. In short, this film has a backbone, while the 1983 movie did not, unless you count him wanting the gun.

That's not to say it couldn't be watched in a similar manner to its forerunner: the gags and bits are contained enough that you could rewatch it in the background, if you enjoy this kind of humor. Granted, like the first that means being willing to stomach the cloying narration, now provided by Peter Billingsley taking over the other half of the role from the late Jean Shepherd. This obviously gets a pass here, because the style's established, but once again we're asked to sit through hearing jokes and references explained in excruciating detail.

One aspect I believe I can fairly call out as an actual problem is the film's eagerness to call out references visually through flashbacks or by featuring photos from the original film. The only people who are going to care about these kinds of callbacks - of which there are plenty - are those who have seen the original so many times they're going to catch them on their own.

Let's get back to the plot, though most of the important details are wrapped up in the premise. With the Old Man gone, Ralphie is now in charge of the holiday. He brings his wife and two kids to his mother's house, and is pressured into making sure the family gets a proper Christmas, so December isn't just remembered as the time Grandpa died. Already stressed about a deadline to get published (due to a deal made with his wife), the task before him seems impossible. One by one, members of his family are injured (his wife spraining an ankle, his daughter needs to wear an eye patch mirroring his from the first movie, and his son breaks an arm sledding). All the gifts they bought are stolen from their car, then the star at the top of the tree breaks on Christmas Eve. Ralphie is arrested breaking into a friend's bar to borrow the star as a replacement, and the cop who shows up is Scut Farkus. Fortunately, Farkus is no longer the jerk he was as a kid and lets Ralphie go. Meanwhile, his wife submits a story he wrote about the Old Man to a local paper, which jumpstarts Ralphie's career as a writer. Also, out turns out the Old Man bought a bunch of gifts before his death, and they coincidentally include all the things the kids wanted that were stolen.

Then of course there are all the B-plots and side adventures. We catch up with Ralphie's friends, return to the department store, bring back the dogs, deal with Scut Farkus's kids, contend with a broken car radiator, make jokes about carolers.... You get the idea.

None of it really works for me. A few moments almost land: the carolers bit starts strong, but again the narration kills the joke. It's almost a cliche to say there's no faster way to ensure something isn't funny than explaining it, but I find it true in this series. I understand this is simplified for kids, but I'm not sure that matters given the new movie is clearly intended for adult fans.

I also find it odd how the movie mythologizes the Old Man, posthumously transforming him into a wise patriarch who loved and mastered Christmas, when the joke was always that he was kind of a blowhard in the original. Granted, it's as much a tribute to Darren McGavin, who passed in 2006, but it makes for a weird disconnect. That's not to say the original portrayed him negatively, but hearing Ralphie claim the Old Man always knew the right thing to do and always ensured Christmas was perfect just doesn't work with the implication we're seeing him in the process of writing the stories that would be adapted into A Christmas Story.

This brings up another problem I have with the meta-narrative. I understand that Ralphie wasn't supposed to be an exact facsimile of Shepherd, but the stories are generally considered to be based on the actual writer's childhood. And, frankly, this isn't at all true to his life as an adult. Just skimming his Wikipedia page makes it pretty clear he wasn't the loving family man presented here. Telling an entirely fictitious story about a character intertwined so completely with the author feels dishonest to me.

But like so much else here, whether this qualifies as an issue with the film is entirely subjective. Viewers who grew up watching A Christmas Story likely don't know or care that Ralphie's adventures were based to some degree on Shepherd's experiences. Likewise, I doubt they'll be bothered that this sequel is steeped in nostalgia to a degree it makes Ghostbusters Afterlife feel fresh in comparison. This is, after all, intended for them, and - for what it's worth - this delivers exactly what it set out to do.