Hello and welcome to A Substream Christmas! In a strange year, when we can all use a holiday pick-me-up, our staff has picked some of their favorite Christmas movies. There will be a different offering in which each person will discuss how much each movie means to them.
Almost everyone who celebrates Christmas has their holiday traditions—opening a present before going to bed on Christmas Eve, hanging mistletoe, decorating the house with so many lights that it can be seen from space. For me and my family, it’s watching A Christmas Story. We actually quote it pretty much year-round, but we reserve talking along with the entire movie for Christmas Day itself. At its heart, it’s a simple film about a young boy dreaming of getting the gift he wants for Christmas. When I watch it, it makes me nostalgic for simpler times when I was a kid. I was fortunate enough to have a warm house, presents under the tree, and extended family to spend the day with. 2020 is a year when everyone’s lives have been turned upside-down, some have unfortunately lost loved ones, and the holidays don’t seem quite the same. Movies like this are especially important to give people a chance to escape into a more familiar world.
Based on a series of monologues by Jean Shepherd, who wrote the screenplay and narrated parts of the movie, the story is set in 1940s America and follows nine-year-old Ralph Parker (Peter Billingsley) (Ralphie to his family and friends) as he embarks on a quest to get the one thing he wants for Christmas: “an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” All the responsible adults in his life keep telling him that if he gets the BB gun, he’ll shoot his eye out with it. They suggest that he asks for a nice football, instead. Undeterred, Ralphie continues to fantasize about getting the present. He has these wild, reoccurring daydreams about success and triumphing over his enemies. Namely, Scut the bully (Zack Ward) who terrorizes Ralphie and his friends every day on the way to and from school.
My personal favorite parts of the movie are Ralphie’s elaborate daydream sequences. Whenever he faces conflict, he imagines what it would be like if everything went his way. When he’s first told that the Red Ryder BB gun is too dangerous of a present for him, Ralphie envisions himself dressed as a cowboy and defending his family and home against four stereotypical old-timey robbers. When he says a swear word and gets his mouth washed out with soap. He then thinks about how sorry his parents would be if he went blind from “soap poisoning.” As a child with an active imagination, these scenes really resonated with me. A lot of movies don’t give a lot of insight into what a kid is actually thinking – only what the adults think the kids are thinking about. Other popular movies that are typically shown around Christmastime show the struggles of adults going through their everyday lives. Then, eventually having to re-learn the magic of Christmas. A Christmas Story tells a story that’s a lot simpler than that, and that’s something I can appreciate.
A Christmas Story has become a holiday staple since its release in 1983. Every year, it runs for 24 hours straight on TBS from Christmas Eve until the evening on Christmas Day. Although it’s a classic now, it wasn’t as well-received when it was initially released. Holiday films weren’t that popular at the time, and the movie didn’t get more popular until it started airing on television and was released on home video. Roger Ebert put it on his list of “Great Movies,” but film critic Vincent Canby thought the movie’s comic moments had too much going on, and that the actresses who played Ralphie’s mother and fourth-grade teacher weren’t as funny as other actresses in sitcoms. The movie is low budget and can be a bit cheesy, but it endures as a holiday favorite because it’s family-friendly and genuinely funny. A Christmas Story can appeal to both adults and kids. I won’t lie, there is a pretty problematic scene near the end where the Parkers go out to eat at a Chinese restaurant. You can fast-forward through it or mute your TV and you won’t miss much.
This Christmas, I’m looking forward to going back to a familiar movie. One that I’ve seen so many times that I might forget how terrible this year has been. I think we could all use that. If you’re looking for something that’s a slice-of-life, you can’t go wrong with A Christmas Story.
Photo Credit: Warner Home Video