The unexpected holiday hit gets the inevitable: a mostly good-hearted follow-up that utterly lacks the staying power of the original.
When Bob Clark’s “A Christmas Story” hit theaters the week before Thanksgiving 1983, no one could have foreseen the cultural impact the family comedy would have on the holiday movie canon. A modest box office showing (it grossed $2 million in its first week and failed to break $20 million throughout its run), mixed reviews, and the attention of Canada’s Genius Awards gave a blurry image of a film that was good enough but barely a game changer. Later, of course, came the TV airings, landing the film in near-constant rotation during the holiday season and making it an unexpected favorite holidays. Familiarity, it seems, hasn’t bred contempt when it comes to this TNT and TBS staple; it only inspired outright worship.
Nearly 40 years after the film’s initial release — and just in time to capitalize on those same TV shows that will carry it over the next six weeks — comes the inevitable: a sequel. There’s certainly fertile ground to cover here, as Clay Kaytis’ clunky title “A Christmas Story Christmas” and its predecessor were inspired by Jean Shepherd’s sprawling “Parker Family Saga,” based on the company’s own stories. authorship, which in turn led to books, radio plays, movies (including “A Christmas Story 2”, which does not exist in this new timeline), and much more.
And yet, despite the apparent warmth with which Kaytis, co-writer Nick Schenk and returning star and co-writer Peter Billingsley approach the material, whatever magic propelled the original to holiday movie glory , it is sorely lacking. Also missing: availability. Thanks to the magic of contractual agreements, the streaming-only feature will likely never appear on rotation on the same cable channels that made the original a hit. Instead, he will exist as a curiosity only available to loyal HBO Max subscribers and Parker family superfans who seek him out. forgettable in execution and convoluted in availability? What make a fan want to gouge their eyes out.
Set in the 70s, “A Christmas Story Christmas” finds our hero Ralphie (Billingsley) playing the role of patriarch of the Parker family. He’s a husband and father, a struggling writer, and things get complicated before he even receives heartbreaking news: his father (aka The Old Man) passed away a few days before Christmas. Suddenly, making the holidays bright isn’t just an ideal to strive for; it’s the one thing that can lift the spirits of his heartbroken family, especially his beloved mother (Julie Hagerty, replacing original star Melinda Dillon, who retired over a decade ago).
Yana Blajeva / Courtesy of HBO Max
Soon Ralph, his wife Sandy (Erinn Hayes, who has great chemistry with everyone, especially Hagerty), and cute kids Mark (River Drosche) and Julie (Julianna Layne) step out of their avocado green apartment in Chicago to come home to Hohman, Indiana, to have the kind of Christmas the Parkers made their bread and butter. That means folkloric anecdotes about life in the Midwest, kids obsessing over essential gifts and salivating at the sparkling windows of local department store Higbee’s. Lies about Santa Claus are told, pots and pans are eaten, and a funky tone reigns supreme, though it’s often deflated by increasingly convoluted storylines and a fairly understandable interest in stuffing the movie with winks. and nods to the original.
And, yes, the nods to the first movie run the gamut, from the most obvious (Ralph tries to sweeten a would-be editor with a holiday present, just like he did with his teacher so many years ago. years) to the really fun (the Parkers’ neighbors, the Bumpus Clan, continue to provide a home for a large pack of partying dogs, with a cozy addition). Billingsley is joined by a group of other returning stars, like his old pals Flick (Scott Schwartz) and Schwartz (RD Robb), his little brother Randy (Ian Petrella) and the eternal enemy Scut Farkus (Zack Ward), this which adds a little sparkle. all the way out.
Inevitably, many lessons are learned (Do Ralph and Sandy pamper their children? Do bullies ever change? Is a “canine triple challenge” really the worst thing you can be challenged with?) , and mistakes elicit both laughter and understanding. The old man is retconned to be the biggest and best Christmas champion in the whole world, a bastion of holiday cheer and bliss, a shiny version of a lovingly curmudgeonly character, and one who totally misses the point of his call.
No one tries to assemble a floor lamp. One person almost has their eyes gouged out. A child vomits on Santa Claus. Play the hits!
Yana Blajeva / Courtesy of HBO Max
But there is something strangely fabricated in all this. If “A Christmas Story” was an unexpected hit that took off due to its quirky charm and amusing familiarity, Kaytis’ film feels totally crafted in its image, fearful of being its own thing at almost every turn. Fans of the first film will likely be assaulted with the feeling that something is just slightly stopped about everything in “A Christmas Story Christmas,” like Billingsley’s lingering voiceover (which takes over the suave tones of Shepherd himself, who memorably narrated the first film) to the meticulously recreated Parker family home (built from scratch in Europe, while the original was shot in Cleveland).
It’s not a sequel; it is a replica. And while it might bring a little comfort and joy during the holiday season, wouldn’t you rather savor the real thing?
“A Christmas Story Christmas” begins streaming on HBO Max on Thursday, November 17.