PG, 94 minutes
Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley
The film is drawn directly from the stories and monologues of radio raconteur Jean Shepherd, who narrates his reminiscences of growing up in Middle America in the '40s, applying elevated language to the politics of profanity and schoolyard "triple-dog" dares. Peter Billingsley plays Shepherd's grade-school self, dealing with bullies, weird relatives, and his worry that he won't get a Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas. Writer-director Bob Clark had long dreamed of making a movie based on Shepherd's work, and after working his way up through the horror/exploitation ghetto in the '70s and scoring a fluke hit with Porky's, Clark took his moment of Hollywood clout and ran with it, developing a piece true to Shepherd's finely detailed recollections and good-natured cynicism. A Christmas Story grasps the full scope of childhood injustice and obsession. Amid the comically cranky Santa Clauses and tree-lighting mishaps, the movie's key moment is a Billingsley crying jag, prompted by a fight with the neighborhood bully and the fear that his dad will clobber him. The affection audiences feel for A Christmas Story is related to the holiday spirit, yes, but specifically to Clark and Shepherd's awareness of how the true meaning of Christmas manifests in the real world, where a warm meal on a cold, dark day–and a surprising moment of parental grace–can ease a troubled mind.
Jay Carr, Boston Globe