Film Highlight: A Christmas Story

Peter Billingsley as Ralphie in A Christmas Story
courtesy of MGM

The venerable Riverview celebrates its 60th anniversary with a showing of A Christmas Story. Clearly, It's a Wonderful Life is the Rolls-Royce of Christmas movies, but this humbler vehicle ain't exactly a Hyundai. It's impossible not to sympathize with a crazy-eyed 1940s kid (Peter Billingsley) as he tries to finesse his way to his own personal grail (a Red Ryder BB gun) while coping with an anorexic kid brother, a strait-laced mom, and a mysterious father who has fallen in love with "electric sex"—that is, a lamp shaped like a woman's leg (one of those rare, perfect story elements, like the broken newel post in It's a Wonderful Life). The film is sweet, tender, and funny all at once, and though it feels like a sentimental precursor to The Wonder Years, it's never once cloying (not even when the kid, a connoisseur of soaps, gets his mouth washed out for saying "the queen mother of dirty words"). It's closer to Woody Allen's Radio Days, and it shares that film's hard-won sympathy for imperfect fathers and its affection for their arcane codes of behavior and taste. And though it came out in 1983 (as did Ingmar Bergman's seasonal masterpiece Fanny and Alexander), A Christmas Story doesn't really seem to age, only to stand as a reminder that no one has made a better Christmas movie since.

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