My Old Man, John Morrison, loved A Christmas Story. Not a holiday season went past that he wouldn’t sit in his chair once the gifts were open, channel surf a little and “just happen” to discover whatever channel happened to be running A Christmas Story all day. And that led into the stories about how the movie reminded him of his own childhood.
A Christmas Story holds a special place in my heart for that reason. Admittedly, the movie has not aged well. Nostalgia pictures rarely do. Yet even as I acknowledge that, yes, the Chinese restaurant scene is problematic as all get out by any standard, I can’t help but admire how well the movie captured the spirit of imagination so many of us lose as we grow up. Where every day is a struggle, our bullies are invincible monsters and our triumphs, like getting the perfect gift, are so much grander. Which is why I was livid when I heard about A Christmas Story Christmas.
A Christmas Story sequel?! What were they thinking? What soulless philistines approved of this strip-mining of the holiday spirit to make a few paltry bucks? Ah. Warner Brothers. Of course.
I should note, in fairness, that this is far from the first attempt to follow up the success of A Christmas Story and that A Christmas Story itself was a sequel. Indeed, there have been a total of eight movies and made-for-TV movies besides A Christmas Story chronicling The Parker Family Saga inspired by Jean Shepherd’s writing. (Nine if you count the televised musical from 2017.) There’s no continuity between most of them and most of them are painfully bad.
A Christmas Story Christmas, thankfully, is the exception. Not because it doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but because it is, fittingly, a story about legacy and defying expectations.
The year is 1973. Christmas is coming and a forty-something Ralph Parker (Peter Billingsley) is getting worried. He took a year off from an unidentified career to focus on getting a novel published, promising his wife, Sandy (Erinn Hayes) that he would give up on writing if he didn’t get published by the end of the year. With that deadline approaching, Ralph’s spirits are dealt another blow by the news of his father’s death. This leaves Ralph left filling The Old Man’s shoes in planning the perfect Christmas for his family, as one thing after another goes wrong.
This sort of story could become cloying quickly. Thankfully, screenwriter Nick Schenk and director Clay Kaytis (working from a story by Schenk and Peter Billingsley himself) are wise enough to realize they can’t fully escape the shadow of A Christmas Story, so they don’t even try. Instead, they use the structure as inspiration, referencing the original without trying to recreate it or telling the same jokes. Whole new fields of holiday awkwardness (such as returning to your hometown and the friends you haven’t seen in years) are mined for comedy.
Yes, there is a scene based about the questionable cooking at the home of the Widow Parker (Julie Hagerty in place of the now retired Melinda Dillon) but this time it’s due to the endless casseroles her friends and neighbors have bequeathed to her in the wake of her husband’s death. Yes, there is a scene involving an ill-advised dare, but this time it is the result of tavern owner Flick (Scott Schwartz) getting some long-delayed revenge on Schwartz (RD Robb) for the now infamous frozen pole incident. And Ralph’s kids have their own unique battle with the local bullies.
Maybe I’m biased in liking A Christmas Story Christmas, being a forty-something writer like Ralph Parker. Maybe I was in the right mood for a movie like this, with the holidays approaching and thoughts of my Old Man (who died on Thanksgiving Day) fresh on my mind. All I know is that A Christmas Story Christmas made me laugh and cry and I think John Morrison would have laughed and cried at it too.
Miss you, Dad.
A Christmas Story Christmas is now streaming on HBO Max.