A Christmas Story Christmas: Review
A Christmas Story Christmas Synopsis: 33 Years after the events of A Christmas Story, a now-adult Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) returns to his former house on Cleveland Street to give his kids a magical Christmas like the one he had as a child while also reconnecting with childhood friends and reconciling the passing of his father.
Ralphie and his ragtag friends and family entered the hearts of all holiday viewers with A Christmas Story. The 1983 film based on the work of author Jean Shepherd received modest acclaim upon its initial release, but it would later grow into one of the season's seminal staples. It's hard to think of a title so beloved that TV networks dedicate their entire Christmas schedule to its existence.
Like most, I revisit A Christmas Story every year and still find myself endeared by its charms. Part of its distinctive appeal derives from the perspective of Shepherd, who translated elements of his novel "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash" with seamless results onscreen. Shepherd possed a magical quality as a writer. He simultaneously entrenches viewers in the wistful splendor of an adolescent Christmas experience while imbuing yearning reflection from his astute adulthood narration. The balance of perspectives makes the film such an accessible offering for viewers of all ages.
Nearly 40 years later, Ralphie returns to the silver screen with A Christmas Story Christmas. The film is set three decades after the events of A Christmas Story, with Ralphie now serving as the patriarch of his own family. A return home to his former homestead allows Ralphie to reconnect with his friends and family as he assumes the Christmas responsibilities of his deceased father. Ralphie struggles deeply with his father's absence - a lingering void exasperated even more by his ongoing failures as an aspiring author.
Like most sequels no one asked for, A Christmas Story Christmas bases most of its approach on insistent tributes to its predecessor. The trite formula of legacy sequels is starting to become a nuisance, although I praise this sequel for discovering some worthwhile sentiments from its routine approach.
Let's get the obvious point out of the way: A Christmas Story Christmas is no A Christmas Story. Director and screenwriter Clay Kaytis and co-screenwriter Nick Schenk lack the astute perspective of Shepherd's work. Instead, the duo conjures a busy series of comedic vignettes that land with mixed results.
Some gags are groan-inducing in their lack of inventiveness. Kaytis and Schenk rely so heavily upon the lionized legacy of A Christmas Story Christmas' predecessor that they can often forget to build upon its foundation. A passing-by reference to something from A Christmas Story does not constitute an actual joke. This is a familiar crutch that all legacy sequels seem to rely upon rather than venturing into new comedic territory.
Kaytis' filmmaking touch is also underwhelming. A Christmas Story director Bob Clarke infused a sentimental touch that morphed the film's 1940s period setting into a lively canvas bolstered by its distinctive observations of the era. In contrast, Kaytis conveys early 1970s Americana in a generic, sitcom-esque manner. There is an oppressive lack of artistry leading to some creative stagnation throughout this so-so sequel.
Still, some elements of A Christmas Story Christmas showcase genuine merit. The sequel is at its best when reckoning with Ralphie's newfound responsibilities as the master of ceremonies for Christmas traditions. Ralphie feels distressed about his father's sudden loss and his new duties as the purveyor of Christmas joy, but his trip down memory lane reignites his loving memories of the holiday. These reflective moments, including the film's heartfelt conclusion, tap into the emotional resonance that made A Christmas Story a beloved holiday staple in the first place.
The film's cast also imbues Yuletide cheer into their roles. Peter Billingsley returns to his iconic role with impactful results, providing a dose of humor and introspection as Ralphie's aged self. R.D. Robb and Scott Schwartz continue the uproarious hijinks of Schwartz and Flick, while other actors return to their established roles in well-executed cameos.
I don't know if I can call A Christmas Story Christmas a necessarily good film, but this legacy sequel at least provides a semi-successful homage through its formulaic construction. Viewers looking for a comforting sequel could certainly do a lot worse (I'm looking at you, Disenchanted and Hocus Pocus 2).
A Christmas Story Christmas is now playing on HBO Max.