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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » My Summer Story (Blu-ray)
My Summer Story (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // PG // March 22, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted March 13, 2016 | E-mail the Author

Perhaps the best "damning with faint praise" compliment I can give Bob Clark's My Summer Story (AKA It Runs in the Family, 1994) is that it's not as bad as 2012's A Christmas Story 2. Oh, it's bad all right---borderline awful, even---but in a completely different way. This 1994 sequel to the holiday staple is less blatantly offensive and not quite as obvious an attempted cash-in as that 2012 mess, but its fundamental flaws and huge shoes to fill don't really give it much chance of success. Taking place just two seasons after the events of A Christmas Story, Clark's film follows the Parker family during a northern Indiana summer filled with more of the same: lusting after the perfect toy (a killer top this time around, not a Red Ryder), the threat of a school bully, and neighborly drama with the Bumpuses.

There are more similarities, of course, and these serve as the only potential bright spots in a film full of missed opportunities. Once again sourced from the writings of celebrated humorist Jean Shepherd (who again narrates as Adult Ralphie), the film's wry middle-class perspective is bathed in infectious nostalgia for youth and young manhood. The featured characters and environments are familiar, eliminating the need for introduction and needless exposition if you've seen A Christmas Story six thousand times (and who hasn't?). My Summer Story's pace and plot elements are all wonderfully down-to-earth, sharing the same "less is more" approach as its well-known older brother.

But almost everything else about Clark's film is drastically, dreadfully wrong. The main problem is its all-new cast; in fact, the only character to reprise their original role (aside from Shepherd) is Tedde Moore as teacher Miss Shields. Everyone else has a brand new face: Ralphie (Kieran Culkin), Ralphie's dad "The Old Man" (Charles Grodin), Mrs. Parker (Mary Steenburgen), Randy (Christian Culkin), Scut Farkus (Chris Owen), et cetera. The reason for this completely different cast is obvious: My Summer Story takes place mere months after A Christmas Story, not 11 years. But the mental adjustment needed to accept My Summer Story at face value is just too great, especially when most of the lead performances are lame attempts at imitation (Grodin, who is particularly bad here) or just too different (Kieran Culkin, who has zero presence in possibly the most important role). Familiar quotes, music cues, and more are lazily recycled on several occasions, playing out more like cheap fan service than a natural extension of A Christmas Story's all-too-familiar universe. These flaws would be forgivable if My Summer Story were laugh-out-loud funny, but it's good for about 10 minutes of light chuckles and lots of leftover dead air.

MGM's only DVD release of A Summer Story is almost a decade old already, and I'm honestly surprised it's made the jump to Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films; I'd have much preferred any of the lesser-known Jean Shepherd PBS films featuring the Parker family (especially 1988's Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss), which have yet to earn a digital release. But for curious masochists and those with an unlikely soft spot for this stinker, it's at least worth a rental; if nothing else, the Blu-ray's terrific A/V presentation preserves the film's hazy, lived-in atmosphere.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, My Summer Story looks excellent on high definition...which isn't all that surprising, since MGM's 2006 DVD was a quality effort. Image detail and textures are uniformly strong, especially during outdoor close-ups. Shadow detail and depth are typically quite good, colors are bold with even saturation and skin tones, and no major digital imperfections (excessive DNR, digital noise, etc.) could be spotted along the way. Fine grain is present but not overpowering, giving My Summer Story a somewhat smooth but completely unprocessed and pleasing appearance overall. This appears to be a single-layered disc...but since the film is less than 90 minutes with no extras, there's little danger of compression artifacts and similar eyesores. Overall, fans will appreciate Olive's efforts on loan from MGM, as this Blu-ray looks a notch or two better than expected.

DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized promotional stills are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.

On paper, this DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio presentation only represents a basic upgrade from the DVD's Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, but the added depth and presence of this lossless track makes up for its lack of surround activity. Dialogue is occasionally a little muddled though, but it's unclear whether this is a source material issue or a problem with the mixing. Music cues are typically clean and well-defined without fighting for attention, while plenty of moments also feature strong channel separation. Don't get me wrong: your speakers or subwoofer won't get much of a workout overall, but what we get here is more than acceptable for this type of film. Unfortunately, no optional English subtitles or captions are included during the main feature, which isn't surprising for an Olive disc.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

Not much here, just a plain-wrap static interface that's pretty much identical to the cover artwork. The only menu options are to play the movie or select one of its eight chapters. This one-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase and includes a promotional insert for other Olive titles. No extras are included, though...not even a trailer.

Final Thoughts

Even if you never realized the enormously popular A Christmas Story had a sequel that wasn't A Christmas Story 2, don't get your hopes up with My Summer Story: though the same writing team (Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark) penned it and Shepherd returns as narrator, the completely new cast all but kills any chances for success. To be fair, the Parker Family universe was so perfectly captured in the 1983 film that any attempts at duplicating its magic would be ill-advised; as such, this undercooked 11 year-old follow up is only worth a rental for established fans and extremely curious parties with their expectations firmly in check. At least Olive's Blu-ray serves up a strong A/V presentation, but that's the absolute most I can give it: there aren't many laughs in this comedy, even if it's doomed to an unfair existence in the massive, inescapable shadow of its older brother. Rent It.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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