Chances are, if you’re an American, or have lived in The States for at least a calendar year, or maybe even just visited around Christmastime, you’ve seen the much celebrated and beloved holiday classic A Christmas Story. Heck, TBS runs it for 24 hours…so the opportunity is there in spades. I’ve covered an aspect of the film before in this here blog (see: Crazy Santa Scene ). But, I love the film so much…and it is that holiday time of year, I don’t think it does anyone a disservice to talk about it again. But for this post, I want to look at one of the best performances in the film instead of a favorite scene. That’s why today’s great thing is:
155. Melinda Dillon in A Christmas Story
To give proper credit, they’re all great in this film. Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsly, even the Bumpus Hounds…but there is something that’s a bit unsung about Dillon’s performance as Midwestern Mom, Mrs. Parker. She suffers through the humiliating episode of the leg lamp, her husband’s blue rantings against the household boiler, and even her son getting into some major fisticuffs with a raccoon-capped thug and she does it all with a certain goodly warmth and humor. She brings to the screen one of the most realistic portrayals of a Mom ever committed to film, methinks.
Of Melinda Dillon, Wikipedia notes that she is notoriously private and not much is known about her as a person. Boy, are they ever right about that. I couldn’t even locate an interview! For a woman who has been nominated for Oscars twice (Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Absence of Malice) AND is a major featured player in one of the greatest cult classics of all time, that’s a pretty impressive level of media avoidance. Briefly (because it HAS to be), here’s what I know about Melinda Dillon. She was born in Arkansas. (Good for her for escaping!) She studied improv with Second City in Chicago. (Good for her for being awesome!) And, she was married for a while and has a child but is now divorced and the child is now a grown-up. (Good for you for having what passes as a pretty normal life nowadays!). This year she is 71 years old. She’s five foot eight and studied the Lee Strasberg method of acting. She played Honey in the original Broadway production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf…and, that’s about all the info I could garner. Oh, here’s a random quote about working with Sylvester Stallone that I found: “I’m taller than Sly and that bothers him and we kid about it so I take off my shoes in some scenes. I can’t slouch or I wouldn’t be Anna. She’s very upright. So, that’s as nosy as I could get. I suppose I’ll just have to focus on why I think her performance in the film is so ace and not worry about stuff like how come I can’t find her blouse size or what her favorite pizza topping is.
1. As a Mom, her character is firm but fair. The Parker children, Ralphie and his kid brother are relatively good kids…but we’re all scamps of a sort at that age aren’t we? They get into their fair share of mischief, what with Ralphie tangling with Farkus, Randy (kid brother) refusing to eat, and Ralphie dropping his very first F-bomb. I especially like how after she makes Ralphie suck on a bar of soap after his foul-mouthed tirade she does try a bit herself to see what it’s like. Later, when she can see the poor kid has had enough after his incident with Scott Farkus she even covers for wee Ralphie with his Dad (who would’ve lost his shit.) What a nice Mom!
2. She perfectly plays the ‘fun’ parent. Watch her encourage Randy to eat, in a fun way which she knows he’ll engage in, whilst Dad Parker looks on in disgust.
3. She’s interesting to watch in a scene even when she’s not the central focus (which she rarely is.) Watch her chuck Randy around like she’s putting a new cover on an especially unwieldy comforter in this snowsuit scene.
Snowsuits are great. I don’t know why we don’t continue to wear them as grown-ups. I have about a twenty minute walk to work…a perilous one at that…nobody shovels their damn sidewalks over here. It’s icy as all get-out and falling about in a nice puffy snowsuit hurts far less than falling about in jeans.
4. Finally, and admittedly unrelated to A Christmas Story, let’s just take a moment to appreciate how awesomely Melinda Dillon has aged. Here is a still from Magnolia. She will have been about 61 here.
A final clip for you here. Unfortunately, no sign of Melinda here…mainting her publicity-shy past…but it’s a nice story about a recent reunion and fun for fans of the film (like myself) to see some of the players all grown up: