A CHRISTMAS STORY CHRISTMAS
(***)-JIM RUTKOWSKI

"...a worthy sequel that doesn’t reinvent or upstage the first."

A Sequel That Will Shoot Your Eye Out With Nostalgia

(112422) Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story has gone from an obscure 1980s cult classic to a stalwart of cable marathons and quotable moments in the thirty-nine years since it premiered. Despite two feature film sequels, a half dozen made-for-television movies featuring the Parker family, and much despised live broadcast musical special, nothing has lived up to the nostalgia and wholesomeness of the original. With HBO Max serving as the perfect platform for such a sequel, Ralphie Parker is back for the first direct sequel to the 1983 original. A Christmas Story Christmas, featuring the return of Peter Billingsley as Ralphie and many of the first movie’s cast, is a nice and family-friendly follow-up that echoes the tone and feel of Bob Clark’s beloved movie for a worthy sequel that doesn’t reinvent or upstage the first.

Set in 1973, three decades after the original, A Christmas Story Christmas finds now adult Ralph Parker (Peter Billingsley) coming to terms with his writing career not taking off. Giving himself until Christmas to publish his novel or return to a regular job, Ralph learns that his father, The Old Man (played by the late Darren McGavin), has passed away. Leaving Chicago with his wife Sandy (Erinn Hayes) and children Mark (River Drosche) and Julie (Julianna Layne), Ralph returns to his childhood home in Indiana to celebrate Christmas with his mother (Julie Hagerty). Tasked with trying to make it the best Christmas ever to honor his dad, Ralph must contend with writing the perfect obituary, stolen gifts, and countless shenanigans with his friends Flick (Scott Schwartz) and Schwartz (R.D. Robb) as well as the memory of how his dad made it all seem so effortless.

Clocking in at just under one hundred minutes, A Christmas Story Christmas follows the format and style of the 1983 film very closely, right down to the familiar musical score and daydreams from Ralphie’s point of view. Taking over as narrator from Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story Christmas is an original screenplay inspired by the author’s writings. Still, it comes from a story crafted by Billingsley and Nick Schenk. Director Clay Kaytis (The Angry Birds Movie) emulates Bob Clark’s style with vignettes and retro visuals to evoke the 1970s, similar to how the first film looked straight out of the 1940s. Billingsley steps back into playing Ralph as if no time has passed but updates his approach to celebrating the holidays as a quest to honor his late father. Along the way, he learns a lot about what it takes to wrangle everything from shopping, cooking, decorating, and more while never losing the heart of what the holiday season is all about.

Like the first film, there is a lot going on, much of which is not directly connected to Christmas at all. In the week leading up to December 25th, with The Old Man’s funeral on hold until after the holiday, this movie hits similar moments from the original, including a busted car, the long wait for Santa, the neighboring Bumpus clan, a couple of bullies, and the daily challenges of being around family. Replacing the school scenes are those set with Ralph and his adult friends at Flick’s bar. Seeing the trio as adults is nice, still with the childish side of their personalities coming through wrinkles and facial hair. All three actors feel like they never lost touch with playing these roles, but Billingsley’s authentic performance as Ralph echoes the most. My second favorite has to be Zach Ward as Scut Farkas, the villain in the first movie, whose inclusion here is a fitting way to connect the two films.

Produced by Billingsley alongside longtime production partner Vince Vaughn, A Christmas Story Christmas spends a lot more time reflecting on the death of The Old Man than I expected from a movie that follows a film that was so light and positive. Thankfully, this sequel never wallows in grief but celebrates life in the face of great loss. They also do not rely too heavily on flashbacks to scenes from the first movie, but it feels right when they do. The biggest problem with this movie is that nothing really happens as it is more of a glimpse into the life of these characters and doesn’t have quite the same drive as Ralphie’s wish for a Red Ryder BB Gun. Still, shifting the focus to Ralph trying to succeed as a writer does have a satisfying feel, as the ending here dovetails with the original movie.

The ending is the strongest section of A Christmas Story Christmas, as Ralphie’s much-procrastinated task of writing his father’s obituary creates an effective, full-circle connection between Shepherd’s work, the most heartfelt moments of A Christmas Story and the best parts of this sequel. It feels like the writers were working backwards to the outcome, and they stick the landing very well. Will it earn a spot on the heavy rotation holiday list going forward? Maybe not, but it will certainly be worth going back for a visit every few holiday seasons.
 

Directed by:    Clay Kaytis
Written by:    Screenplay by Nick Schenk & Clay Kaytis. From
 a story by Nick Schenk & Peter Billingsley. Based
 on the characters created by Jean Shepherd
Starring:    Peter Billingsley, Erinn Hayes, Scott Schwartz
Released:    11/17/22 (USA)
Length:    98 minutes
Rating:    PG for language, some rude material and behavior
Available On:    HBO/Max

A CHRISTMAS STORY CHRISTMAS © 2022 HBO/Max
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2022 Alternate Reality, Inc.

 

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