A Christmas Story is a perfect piece of nostalgia about a boy growing up in the Midwest in 1939/40 who dreams of getting an “official Red Ryder 200 shot carbine-action range-model air rifle” for Christmas despite all the adults in his life insuring him he will shoot his eye out. The film kind of plays more like a television show, with many scenes depicting milestone moments in a child’s life, particularly a child growing up in the Midwest during this time period. The film has become a Christmas staple and I believe this is because it is very relatable, as everyone remembers being in the same predicaments as young Ralphie.
The film was a surprise hit in theaters when released but it has become a Christmas juggernaut mostly due to TBS’ 24-hour airing of the film. You can catch the film 12 different times as it is broadcast around the clock, most likely the network’s way of padding a low ratings day, as most families are probably too busy with holiday festivities to watch much tv. While I used to eagerly look forward to catching it on tv, 24 hours of anything is overkill. I think it has hurt the film’s legacy more than helped it. Part of what makes the film so magical when you first watch it, is that it’s such a surprise and I think having it aired 24 hours straight kills a lot of the spark.
This film is really about growing up, as Ralphie experiences many milestones over the Christmas season. The movie is an adaptation of Jean Shepherd’s short story collection In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash (oddly enough, many of the stories were first published in Playboy) where he recalls his Midwest childhood. Stories that originally took place years apart from each other in the book, happen over the course of a few weeks in the film. Ralphie encounters a lot of hard truths as he straddles childhood and adulthood, the biggest being that his parents were right all along about the air rifle, it is a dangerous toy. I know someone who said Ralphie hurting himself also immediately with the rifle ruined the movie for him. It proved the parents right and that was inexcusable. I see his point, but I have other issues with that twist in the film. Ralphie’s goal is to get the rifle, so the fact that he gets it and then the film keeps going is problematic structurally. While there are still good moments after the receives the rifle (particularly Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant), it all feels a little unnecessary. His goal was achieved, the movie’s over right?
While I will agree this is an important Christmas movie, I this the excessive TBS showings hurts its legacy more than helps it. The film kicked off a nostalgia trend that led to the popular television series The Wonder Years which also used a narrator to dramatize growing up in a simpiler time and crossing over into adulthood. If somehow you’ve managed missing this film after all this time, check it out but I would advise watching it on DVD instead of the televised airings.