Sunday, October 19, 2003

Movie: "My Summer Story," aka "It Runs in the Family"

My family are among the few people who seem to recall Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss. Virtually everyone is familiar with the infamous A Christmas Story, but this TV-movie sequel remains both obscure and a family favorite.

But 'Hopnoodle' is not the only sequel to that holiday staple, as there was a theatrically released follow-up several years ago, under the title It Runs in the Family. (Upon video release, the title was changed to My Summer Story, for obvious reasons.) And last week, I happened to stumble across a used copy of this film at a Wherehouse Video closing sale. Unfortunately, the film fails to live up to either of Jean Shepard's other films.

The cast is certainly first-rate. Kieran Culkin takes over the role of Ralphie, in what appears to be his first major Hollywood role. Mary Steenburgen and Charles Grodin play Ralphie's parents, and also do a fine job, although Grodin has a tendency to make the Old Man a little too crazy at times.

The film's biggest problem is its lack of a central storyline. No fewer than four main plots are explored in 95 minutes, and none is really dominant. The one that finishes the film, that of the summer fishing trips between Ralphie and his dad, is easily the best and most heartfelt. But it probably comes in third in terms of screentime. At the other extreme is the conflict between the Old Man and the Parkers' hillbilly neighbors, the Bumpuses. The neighbors are overdone caricatures, the conflict is forced, and the aforementioned excesses of Grodin's character don't jive with the portrayal of the Old Man in Shepard's other films. And at film's end, the entire episode adds virtually nothing to the rest of the story, and feels as if it were added just to take up time.

All in all, it's not a bad way to spend an hour and a half, but it pales in comparison to its predecessors.


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