Review by Sean Boelman
A Christmas Story has become a bonafide cult classic, receiving a very muted reception upon its release but eventually becoming one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time. A Christmas Story Christmas is the latest in a line of sequels to attempt to capitalize on its popularity, and while it is definitely higher-caliber than previous efforts, it also lives in the shadow of its predecessor.
The film follows Ralphie as he returns to his childhood home in the hopes of providing the same type of magical and memorable Christmas that he had as a child. Set decades after the original movie, this is the latest in the line of legacy sequels that have come out recently trying to capitalize on the popularity of significant IP’s.
The film isn’t subtle with its nostalgia-baiting, with several annoyingly overt callbacks to some of the most iconic moments from the first movie. While a few of them are at least somewhat natural — exploring the aftermath of one of the anecdotes from the original film — many of the callbacks tend to be simply including props or lines to get a quick, cheap laugh.
Peter Billingsley returns to his role as Ralphie, now nearly forty years later as an adult. He clearly has a connection to the role that made his career, and that really shines through in terms of authenticity. Billingsley also takes over narration duties now that series creator Jean Shepherd passed away over twenty years ago.
Just like the original movie, the sense of humor here is largely innocent and juvenile, although this time around, it tends to feel like a shell of the original. A Christmas Story got its charm by capitalizing on its adult audience’s nostalgia for their childhood, and while this sequel does the same, it creates a weird cycle of nostalgia where it’s being nostalgic for nostalgia.
The film also suffers from a feeling of bleakness compared to the original. The inciting incident here is the death of the Old Man, and while his presence doesn’t necessarily create an enormous void, the movie is constantly reminding the audience that he isn’t there because the characters are depressed and moping around without him.
From a technical level, the film does look better than some of the straight-to-television and straight-to-DVD sequels that have been made in the franchise. The periodization isn’t great, as it does feel vague despite the fact that it was set a few decades ago. And furthermore, the physical comedy gags aren’t all that great.
A Christmas Story Christmas is clearly baiting for nostalgia, and while there are some moments that accomplish that successfully, it grows monotonous rather quickly. In trying to recapture the magic that made the original so beloved, it ends up just spinning its wheels.
A Christmas Story Christmas streams on HBO Max beginning November 17.