Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Christmas Story

(Bob Clark, 1983)
Wherein Clark the populist provocateur sets out to create a modern holiday classic. And classic it is - but before it is anything else it is broad. Eyes roll, people run around in fast motion, dad talks in a high voice after he's bagged with a bowling ball, everyone mugs and preens into the camera. And it really, really works. Clark's nasty, cynical yet humane conventional wisdom is absolutely made for Jean Shepherd's folksy takedown of every Xmas cliché in the book. Every scene has a payoff, and with (Daniel Pinkwater's) narration tying up all loose ends it moves like slightly clunky lightning. Above all, this movie really gets the inner life of kids. Peter Billingsley's comic delivery carries the film even more than Darren McGavin's, and this absolutely nails familiar but underused types like Billingsley's utterly unreadable brother and a 'terrifying' bully-wimp named Scott Farkas. A couple self-conscious mitigations fail to redeem the gratuitous R's of the climactic Chinese restaurant thing, but coming after a mall Santa sequence as terrifying as anything in "Black Christmas", it's difficult to care.

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