Making a sequel to a film that plays in a 24-hour loop on TV every year seems like an odd endeavor. Then again, A Christmas Story Christmas, now streaming on HBO Max, is an odd movie. Unlike 1983’s A Christmas Story, which captures the holiday spirit through a child’s fresh eyes, the nearly 40-year sequel feels largely like an awkward, tired family reunion. However, when it stops aiming for juvenile jokes and leans into the more emotional moments, it shines, however faintly.
A Christmas Story Christmas jumps from the 1940s setting of the original film to December 1973. But like the original, which director / co-writer Bob Clark designed to be “amorphously late-’30s, early ’40s,” this one doesn’t feel too specific to a particular era. Rather, director / co-writer Clay Kaytis gives it the timeless, vaguely vintage aesthetic of small-town America.
Now all grown up but looking like a kid wearing his dad’s clothes, Peter Billingsley reprises his role as Ralph Parker. Like one of Scrooge’s ghosts, Ralph’s old man dies, forcing him to abandon his efforts of shopping his sci-fi novel around the Windy City and come back home to Hohman, Indiana — a stand-in for the Hoosier town of Hammond. (Julie Hagerty admirably fills in for Melinda Dillon as Ralph’s mother.)
The big conflict of the film revolves around Ralph having to deliver a Christmas that lives up to the ones his dad made possible. Apparently he doesn’t remember his dad basically just being a dick in the days leading up to Christmas morning.
The humor of the original film lies in its depiction of Christmas as a pain in the ass that sends parents into a frenzy. The Old Man (the late, great Darren McGavin) flips out about a broken fuse, haggles over a Christmas tree, childishly clings to a sultry leg lamp.
The events of the sequel are disappointingly low-key in comparison. Beyond accidentally beaning his daughter with a snowball, Ralph remains pretty mild-mannered. Here’s where the film alienates a large portion of its audience.
Most of the people eager to stream this on HBO Max grew up with the original. When they see Flick (Scott Schwartz), the character who got his tongue stuck to the frozen pole, they’ll likely giggle at the thought of the actor’s porn career in the 1990s. However, the film lacks the edgier humor these viewers may expect. There’s no leg lamp, BB gun or bullying department store Santa here. Just the kind of corny comments you’d hear from relatives about their neighbors’ gross casseroles.
It’s strange to see the original characters again. They’re so defined by the 1983 film that the reality of them existing outside its world and growing older is jarring. The film taps into that harsh reality in a surprisingly poignant way when Ralph starts writing about his late father. Here, the film transforms from a cringy nostalgia cash grab into a heartfelt trip down memory lane, which Billingsley drives home with his tender, moving performance. I triple dog dare you not to get a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye at the end.