It Runs in the Family (1994)
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Kieran Culkin portrays second-grader Ralphie Parker. Though Parker was supposed to be 14 years-old in the second movie, the writers might've felt it to be more entertaining to once again write a story from a young kid's perspective. Not only is it something younger children can relate to, but they don't have to stick to such strict guidelines of reality, allowing room to delve into fanatasies and imaginations of our narrating protagonist, Ralphie.
That is what made the first movie so enjoyable, this kid getting all psyched out about Christmas and dreaming about his Red Ryder BB gun. Then, he'd have his little day dreams about how his mom got together and plotted to give him a bad grade on his essay about the gun, marking it with large letters that "he'd shoot his eye out." Or how, when his parents often rebuffed his requests for the Christmas present, he daydreamed how he was blind and returns home and his parents grieve about how they should've been nicer to him. There's a bit of that going on here, and makes it a better comedy.
So, little Ralphie Parker is engaged in a battle with a new foe, Lug Ditka, who challenges Ralphie to a tops war. The tops battles are apparently symbolic of strength and more appropriate in a family film than physically fighting. While Ralphie's classmates have failed to beat Lug, the reigning champion, Ralphie is going to prove is worth. And the feat becomes very intimidating.
The movie is pretty much a string of subplots, one not really dominating the other. Meanwhile, we have three other subplots. The funniest and most interesting one involves Ralphie's mother (Mary Steenburgen) and the other local Indiana housewives going to this theater each week, lured by a salesman's promise of getting a full set of autographed celebrity dinnerware. Each week, they return with the same gravy boat. The funny part is seeing Ralphie's mother getting annoyed when her husband asks her the stupid question of where all the other celebrity autographed plates were when he was standing in a kitchen full of gravy boats. Like a scene from Citizen Kane, the women eventually get together and stage a revolt.
The other subplot involves Ralphie's father (aka The Old Man) and greater insight to their boorish hick neighbors, the Bumpus's. Recall in the first movie, it was their dogs who often stormed the Parkers kitchen and spoiled the Christmas turkey. Once again, there is a feud between Old Man Parker and the Bumpus's concerning a territorial dispute.
And, yet another subplot concerns Ralphie and his dad, and their skilled fishing expedition. As you'll notice, there's not much going on with Randy Parker (played by Kieran's brother, Christian).
It turned out to be a better family comedy than Ollie Hopnoodle's, and one that fans of "A Christmas Story," would probably enjoy.
I found it very funny. Midwest Gothic humor I guess and I enjoy that and if you like Jean Shepard you'll like this. But also maybe because I didn't try to compare it with "A Christmas Story". It involves one kid's summer in Indiana, trying to outfox the local bully and dealing with the unspoken world of adults. Shepard's crystal clear descriptions of growing up with stand offs and quirky battles. The sets and settings are done perfectly, with all the humid reality of a Midwest summer.
I thought Grodin and Steenbergen were great, along with one of the Caulkin kids. I missed the first part, but still enjoyed it.
Shepherd again narrates. He was a legendary humorist and radio personality who indirectly inspired "A Boy Named Sue" and whose Christmas tale has become a cult hit thanks to cable TV marathons. Here, we get to see Ralphie at a time of year when boys DON'T try to stick their tongues to flagpoles. The Old Man is played by Charles Grodin, whose gruff manor--but at times, joie de vivre--is in the spirit of Darren McGavin, who played that role in ACS; while Mom is played by Mary Steenbergen (Back to the Future Pt 3). And if Shepard's narration makes you think "Wonder Years", be aware that "A Christmas Story" used the "adult narrator recalling his youth" device several years before the ABC series came about (wonder where they got the idea!)
Very funny, warm hearted, and nostalgic.
I'm this kid, see...
So I awaited (and awaited) its sequel, "It Runs In The Family" . The film was almost released a couple of times, only to be pulled at the last minute. When it finally came out, IRITF was (and is, I guess) a total failure.
The sets and cinematography were just fine, but the directing totally, completely missed the mark. The film was nothing more than a cash-flow formula of lazy casting, lazy writing, and disconnected acting.
The narrator, Jean Shepard, who was one of America's great humorists and story-tellers, forced upon us a false reprise of the warm wit he used in ACS. He over-emoted, and why he did that I'll never know. He somehow managed to become an annoying, overwrought parody of himself.
The writing and acting in IRITF is inauthentic and forced. The actors may have seen ACS, but whatever wit and nuance that was in ACS mustn't have registered at all on any of them. The acting was embarrassingly slapstick and bereft of any of Shepard's dry humor.
ACS will always be a real treasure, but to call IRITF a sequel is to insult all of the fans of Jean Shepard and ACS.
Well, the special edition of Christmas was released, my buddy bought it, and invited me over.
Yeah, great film. Very cool. But the family that *I* fell in love with was the Summer Story cast! And here, I read comments of Christmas Story fans hating this sequel. Funny how that works out!!!
The good news is the DVD has been released recently, at a discount price, and it is still a great flick worth repeated viewings.
Charles Grodin is GREAT as The Old Man ("Son of a Bitch!" "F-I-S-H-!" and "War, Bumpus! This is war!"), Steenburgen is hilarious when she snaps at the Orpheum and gets arrested, Dick O'Neill as Pulaski ("I haven't got all day!") and the Culkin kids are fine as Ralphie and Randy.
Anyway, if you are a Baby Boomer, and enjoy nostalgic looks to our childhoods, BOTH films written by Jean Shepherd are MUST-SEE DVDs.
"My Summer Story" was advertised at the time as a sequel to "A Christmas Story". I'm not sure if "sequel" is the right word for such a movie, even though the same characters from the previous movie were reprized here. The fact is, people tend to forget that both movies were based on the memoirs of Jean Shepherd, who provided narration for both movies. Without most of the cast of the original movie (save Shepherd himself and Tedde Moore as Ralphie's teacher, Mrs. Shields), a lot of the charm that made "A Christmas Story" both a perennial favorite and a cult classic was lost in this movie. Although director Bob Clark, who directed both movies, is now deceased, he probably became aware 15 years ago that this movie could not even come close to the long-term success of "A Christmas Story".
Kieran Culkin is a very good child actor who grew up to do some really good movies ("Igby Goes Down", "The Cider House Rules"). As a child, he displayed a lot of charm in understated movie roles (both "Home Alone" movies, both "Father of the Bride" movies). Here, he has to fill Peter Billingsley's shoes, and he seems unaware of the previous movie. He doesn't look like a child from the 1940's, nor does he really act like one. He just kind of seems to go through the motions here. For instance, there's no excitement in his eyes when he goes searching for a top, and his level of embarrassment is not evident in the scene where the Chinese top with flowers is mocked by his peers. As good an actor as the younger Culkin became, his acting did not match with Jean Shepherd's enthusiastic narration.
My guess is that both Kieran and Christian Culkin (who plays younger brother Randy) got cast in this movie the same way their older brother Macaulay got cast in "The Good Son": their father pulled strings and went against the studios wishes through threatening and bribery. "The Good Son" was not a good role for Macaulay, and these roles in this movie weren't the right fit for these Culkin boys.
Charles Grodin probably got typecast as Mr. Parker based on his previously successful performances in the "Beethoven" movies as the grumpy Dad. In this movie, he plays grumpy well, but that's really all he plays. It's a one-dimensional performance that doesn't contain the warmth of Darren McGavin's more developed character from the original movie. Mary Steenbergen doesn't give a lot to her performance as Mrs. Parker either, and the subplot of her gravy boat surplus may have been funny on paper, but is awkward on film. The part near the end where she throws a gravy boat at movie theater owner Leopold Doppler (a miscast Glenn Shadix of "Beetlejuice" fame) made me wonder how that didn't occur to her in the middle of the film.
The gravy boat fiasco is just one of many subplots that, unlike in "A Christmas Story", coexist, but don't interlope and connect to form one great story. They all just seem very sitcom-like and unoriginal. There's a subplot about a tax collector that goes nowhere, some hillbilly neighbors who aren't as aggravating as Grodin desperately wants the audience to think they are, a fishing story which accounts (surprise!) no fish being caught over a majority of the summer, and a brief mention of the famous BB gun from "A Christmas Story" involving Ralphie being shot somewhere else other than the eye. When he gets shot in this place, it feels like a cheap laugh that insults the intelligence of the film's intended audience.
On top of all those inconsistencies, the movie never gives a time and place. By that I mean that the movie takes place sometime in the 1940's before television, but you never know exactly when because the film never tells you in subtitles. It's clear that the people who made this movie made too many assumptions of whom would see this film.
This movie is no "Christmas Story", that's for sure. However, if it weren't for Jean Shepherd's narration, this film would be completely forgettable. Shepherd is a great storyteller, both on paper and on film. His voice has a grandfather-like charm to it, and his sense of humor goes without saying. He lived these tales he tells, and no one can tell them better than him. Without his voice in the movie, the film would have been completely lost. So yes, "My Summer Story" was deeply flawed in many areas, but I marginally recommend this film because of Shepherd's great storytelling skills.
b.) Charles Grodin is a wretched, miserable excuse for an actor. He should NEVER have been cast as "The Old Man", and both James Broderick and Darrin McGavin must be spinning in their graves - presuming the latter is dead.
c.) And now for the topper; the only baseball reference is to the hated Cubs. This is an obvious concession to the same group of morons that Clark was hoping to attract with the Ditka fabrication. Anyone who has ever read, heard or even looked at Jean Shepherd knows that he is a WHITE SOX fan to the core! It is part of the very fiber of his being, as well as those of Ralph's entire northwest Indiana family. For Sheperd to have allowed this slander, this total distortion of everything he stands for, can only mean one of two things; either he was comatose at the time of shooting, or he was made a monetary offer he couldn't refuse. My money - you should pardon the expression - is on the latter.
So, enjoy the amusing bits - ( most of them come early anyway ) - then try and forget you ever saw this sacrilege and do your best to wait patiently until next Christmas, when the REAL Parker clan will once again be on display. My friends, you have been warned.
Now granted, it would be tough for anyone to follow in the footsteps of the beloved characters portrayed so memorably by Darren McGavin (as The Old Man) and Peter Billingsley (as Ralphie) in the original, but the efforts here by Charles Grodin and Kieran Culkin, respectively, are disappointingly feeble. Culkin can be dismissed as merely bland; he's just not much of an actor. Grodin, however, is more problematic. Never the warmest of actors, his skill at playing low-key supporting characters who specialize in dryly delivered asides is unparalleled. But here he's simultaneously trying to pay a tribute to McGavin and convincingly portray a bigger-than-life 'man's man'; in both cases he's not only unconvincing, but actually looks uncomfortable.
Despite the ploddingly episodic script and casting weaknesses, praise should go, once again, to the production design and costuming, nostalgically evoking a bygone era. For some people that may be enough. But overall this a depressing example of filmmakers going to the well once too often.