A Christmas Story is one of the rare holiday fixtures that still earns its gauzy charms after all the annual marathons and kitschy merchandising. The 1983 film captures the sentimentality that comes with remembering one’s childhood by showing the events through the eyes of a grown-up Ralphie Parker.
The details that stay with Ralphie when he thinks back on his Christmastime search for a BB gun are so exaggerated that the whole thing sounds like a fantasy. Since there isn’t much at stake, the antics are only funny to a child, or an adult who is convinced he has a vivid memory of his youth.
Due to Hollywood’s inability to let go of its beloved, Ralphie Parker has returned. On HBO Max’s premiere date of November 17th, A Christmas Story Christmas will check in on a Ralphie who now has grey hairs instead of bunny jumpsuits. The plot is very similar to the original, but this time Ralphie is narrating his life in the present tense rather than the reflective style that gave the original its wink. We’ve moved on from the realm of childhood fantasy.
Though it aims for levity, A Christmas Story Christmas is ultimately a somber reminder that adults see the world in many more black-and-white terms than children do.
View this post on Instagram
To play the role of Ralphie, now a father of two in 1973, Peter Billingsley, who conceived the new film with writer Nick Schenk (Gran Torino), retains the awestruck gaze and chubby cheeks necessary for the role. Ralphie quit his job to write a novel, but the family is struggling to make ends meet while he toils away at Neptune’s Oblivion, a work of science fiction that will never be published.
Ralphie’s mother (a crazy Julie Hagerty) calls him right before Christmas to tell him that his father has died, which is traumatic enough for him and his loving wife (Erinn Hayes). They pack up the car to make the trip back to the Chicago suburb where Ralphie almost lost an eye.
From that point on, the plot of A Christmas Story is set in motion. There’s an off-kilter harmony to Christmas. The shadows of death and regret hang over the film, but the filmmakers are too focused on rehashing the highlights of the original to give them any credence.
Billingsley, Schenk, and director Clay Kaytis (The Christmas Chronicles) inject it with a dose of reality that leads nowhere to make up for the lack of substance in the script. Not much happens in the film beyond a parent’s desire to create a perfect holiday despite experiencing loss within the family.
A Tale for the Holidays As Christmas continues, we are reminded of past events and characters, including Flick (Scott Schwartz) and Schwartz (R.D. Robb), “hillbilly” neighbors (Zack Ward), the glistening department store Higbee’s, fickle fuses, and triple-dog dares. (There are no unfortunate Orientalist generalizations here.)
The familiar graininess of the original has been replaced by an uninspiring sheen, making the callbacks feel forced and unnatural. The momentum is weakened by the fact that no other character experiences emotions even close to Ralphie’s extreme need for his BB pistol.
Even more recently, Hocus Pocus 2 encountered the same problem with its sequel. The film injected a cheesy message about the strength of sisterhood to manufacture meaning in the absence of an organic reason to resurrect those beloved characters. As Hocus Pocus was to October, so is A Christmas Story to December.
A 24-hour loop on TNT and TBS since 1997 has made the former one of the most revered American films of all time. At least Bette Midler’s star power allowed Hocus Pocus 2 to coast. None of the actors make it through the forced hilarity of A Christmas Story Christmas, and the movie fails to be as funny as the contrast between Ralphie and his parents. Billingsley’s narration, in place of the late comic Jean Shepherd, isn’t nearly as perky as the original.
How far do films like A Christmas Story Christmas, Hocus Pocus 2, and Halloween Ends sink their respective brands if they receive unwelcome sequels? The premiere of Hocus Pocus 2 was the most-watched in the history of streaming services, but did viewers feel satisfied after watching it? When these films’ modern reimaginings are so unremarkable, the traditions they inspire lose some of their lusters.
Even though it’s completely harmless, watching A Christmas Story: Christmas might make you feel like adult Ralphie in the original film did—looking back through the snow globe of your memories at a simpler, happier time.
November 17th, at 9 pm ET/8 pm PT on HBO Max
- Peter Billingsley
- Julie Hagerty
- Ian Petrella
- Scott Schwartz
- R.D. Robb
- Zack Ward
- Erinn Hayes
Peter Billingsley, Nick Schenk, and Clay Kaytis (director and co-screenwriter respectively) (story by)