It Runs In The Family aka My Summer Story (1994) – A Review
Little Ralphie Parker and his family are back and this time Christmas is long over and they’re all about to embark on summer comedic adventures.
During this warmer weather tale, Ralphie (Kieran Culkin) is determined to defeat bully Scott Farkus with an unbeatable spinning top. The Old Man (Charles Grodin) ratchets up his war on their hillbilly neighbors the Bumpus’. Mrs. Parker (Mary Steenburgen) goes toe to toe with the local movie theater manager and her promised Hollywood themed China set she was to receive. And Ralphie is finally old enough to learn the art of fishing by the Old Man.
The Parker family also all look quite different than the last time we saw them.
It Runs In The Family (also known as My Summer Story) came and went so quickly and with so little attention, I bet most Christmas Story fans aren’t even aware of its existence. They’re probably more familiar with the dreadful 2012 direct-to-dvd that was marketed as the ‘official sequel’ – A Christmas Story 2. Whoa, was that movie awful!
It Runs In The Family is not much better. It’s still a disappointing followup to the 1984 classic film. However, it does have a few things going for it. Not enough to make it enjoyable, but I’d still rank it better than A Christmas Story 2. That’s faint praise I know.
Other than actress Tedde Moore who returns for a brief scene as Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields, no one else from the original cast is back. But behind its creation writer Jean Shepard returns as the grown up Ralphie narrating the story and original Christmas Story director Bob Clark returns to tell this summer tale. So, the movie gets two free points with their association.
Their participation did little to help with the movie. Yet, despite the end result, the fact Shepard and Clark were involved in this is enough for me to christian this as the ‘true sequel’ to A Christmas Story.
It’s still not very good, but I consider it the ‘real sequel’ – as if we needed one.
The film, much like A Christmas Story, is a series of vignettes with one central story that runs through it. This time Ralphie’s main focus is acquiring a super duper top so he can defeat Fargus on the playground. It’s about as exciting as it sounds.
Kieran Culkin plays Ralphie and never makes a dent carving out his own identity as Ralphie. The unforgettable performance and image of Peter Billingsly is just too much to overcome.
All the kids end up as a very forgettable pack of kids. Whereas the original cast of Billingsly and all the kids were charming, unique and there was a real innocence to them, here it’s more of the ‘movie kid’ variety. We’re supposed to think they’re cute, but they don’t look or act in any special ways that make you remember them. Their faces aren’t memorable and really the top spinning war doesn’t get very interesting.
In comparison, from the very first time we see Billingsly and his crew in A Christmas Story with their noses pressed up against the department store window marveling at all the toys, you instantly connect with them and want to keep watching and hoping Ralphie will get his Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. It becomes an all important part of this kids life for the entire month and he’s constantly dreaming of it. You get behind the goal of this kid and it soon becomes as important to you as it is to Ralphie.
Here, I couldn’t have cared less whether this Ralphie would defeat Scott Fargus in a spinning top competition. It didn’t seem to be very important anyway. In a way, it’s a pretty shallow goal for Ralphie. Why is it so important that he defeats Fargus? We never see any major conflict between the two or why Fargus deserves a comeuppance. And why exactly is Ralphie the one who should deliver it? So all the kid stuff in the movie is a bust.
Grodin and Steenburgen also fall short of matching original actors Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon. Maybe, it’s unfair to compare the pairs of actors, but this is a ‘sequel’ after all. We’ve met the Parker family once before and all these characters, so there is a benchmark already established.
That’s the trouble with making sequels to movies decades later with a new cast. They not only have to deliver winning performances within the new story, but they also have to manage to not fall in the shadow of the original actors. Here, it fails on both counts. It might be one of the most forgettable films and performances Grodin and Steenburgen have done.
Grodin and Steenburgen are both very talented and can be very funny when needed. And I would’ve thought their talent would’ve helped create at least a little spark for the film. Yet, they’re participation does barely anything.
It’s kind of strange, because I really like both of them. When they also worked together around the same time in the comedy Clifford – and that’s considered by some as one of the worst comedies ever made – I guess, they just didn’t have good luck when they paired up.
Grodin goes through the film with the boring story of trying to get back at the Bumpus’ in vindictive ways. He plays music really loud at them in the middle of the night and the huge Bumpus family mistakenly think he’s having a hootenanny and begin happily dancing. Are you laughing yet?
Gordon, while I like, I never exactly thought of as ‘lovable actor’. He can be extremely funny and he’s terrific playing droll, sardonic characters. Just look at Midnight Run! Or even some of his appearances on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. Hysterical stuff!
But somehow he got into this run of playing these raging characters – Beethoven, Clifford, Taking Care of Business.
Whereas McGavin was fantastic at slow burns, exasperated and exhausted frustration with his off-screen mumbled curing, Grodin dials his behavior up to eleven and goes through most of the film yelling and unleashing straight out anger. They should’ve rewrote ‘The Old Man’ to play more to Grodin’s unique comedic strengths.
Maybe had he dialed it back more he would’ve been better in this. But he provides no laughs in this and he ends up being too much of an exaggerated yelling character. He looks like he’s making another Beethoven movie. I would much rather live with McGavin as my Old Man than Grodin.
The whole fishing subplot about Ralphie finally being taken fishing with the Old Man is meant to have some emotional payoff, but it lays there and plays more like uninspired filler. Never once did I remotely believe this group was a real family.
I always felt Steenburgen had a timeless quality about her. Really, I think she can fit in almost any kind of story setting, period films or contemporary and she’d work fine. She just has something timeless about her looks. She comes off a bit better in this. Steenburgen’s charm alone carries her misadventures further than it deserves.
Mrs. Parker is excited to get a Hollywood themed China set from the local movie theater. But her and a theater full of woman become increasingly frustrated over the course of the summer by the excuses of the movie theater manager when they don’t receive the new promised pieces. As the summer drags on all the women are continuously given the same Ronald Coleman gravy boat over and over again. It’s probably my favorite segment out of the whole movie.
The film looks like a tv movie much of the time. The time period of the 1940’s doesn’t feel as vibrant and authentic as it did in A Christmas Story. Shepard narrates the proceedings, but there aren’t endearing and funny memorable pieces of his writing accompanying the humorous events as everyone loved the first time we saw Ralphie. You know, all those lines that fans quote all the time? You’d be hard pressed to find a single one in It Runs In the Family.
Nothing in the movie really clicks. I suppose it’s harmless and smaller children might enjoy some of it, but it’s very silly humor, nothing will stick with you and it certainly won’t become a movie that will become part of any annual traditional watching. You’d probably have trouble even finding it! I couldn’t even unearth a trailer for it!
They should just leave the Parker family alone. We have 1984’s A Christmas Story. Everyone likes A Christmas Story. Everyone continues to watch it and discover it every year. There’s no need to try to recapture that magic or to try to continue that story past Ralphie getting his Red Ryder BB gun.