Wednesday, June 15, 2016

AFI Top 100, #11: "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946)

Movie Stats:
Released 1946 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Frank Capra
Stars - James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore

Plot Summary:
When kind-hearted small-town man George Bailey (Stewart) is at the end of his rope and contemplating suicide, angel Clarence (Travers) is sent down from Heaven to save him by showing him what the world would be like without him. Reed plays George’s wife, Mary, and Barrymore his lifelong adversary, the odious businessman Mr. Potter.


Bad Stuff:
It’s sooooooo hokey! Especially the angels-talking-to-each-other stuff. There was actual grimacing on my part.

The pacing is off. The lead up is long, the payoff surprisingly brief. I would’ve liked it to be more even.

I don’t like George very much. He’s a bit of a Debbie Downer. I realize that his life didn’t work out the way he wanted, but most people’s don’t. Like, just own it George, and stop being a whiner about it. Also, when things don’t go his way, he tends to throw a huge temper tantrum. While he works it out in the end, the temper tantrums are a chore to get through.

Of course, in the alternate universe where George doesn’t exist, Mary turns out to be an old maid. The horror! Blargh.

Good Stuff:
I love the way the family relationships are portrayed. There were several moments that made me tear up because I was so deeply touched, and it was simple stuff, like toward the beginning, where they’re chatting over the dinner table. The way they spoke to each other was so natural and heart-warming.

Of course, I enjoy the central message, that each of us is important in our own way, and that we affect others in ways we may never know.

I love how unrepentantly evil Mr. Potter is, and I love that there’s no attempt to redeem him. It’s refreshing, especially for a hokey, feel-good movie like this.

The Verdict:
If you can believe it, this is only the second time I’ve seen this film, and my first time was as a full-fledged adult. That’s right, unlike most people, this wasn’t a childhood staple of mine. Perhaps because of that, I’ve never really been into it. To me, it’s just kind of cheesy and silly, and I was surprised this time by how much I dislike George. I wasn’t rooting against him or anything, but I did get pretty tired of his moping around. However, it’s sweet and touching. Despite the things that irked me, I still found myself crying at the end. I get why people like it so much, even if it’s not to my particular taste.

I give it 3.5 stars.


Patricia said...

Not just an old maid, but a LIBRARIAN old maid! That's my favorite detail.

I didn't grow up with this either, because my mother is also not a fan. But I love it! I think George is annoying, and I don't understand why Mary is even interested in him, but there are so many scenes in this movie I love. Like when the young Mary whispers in George's bad ear "Someday I'm going to marry you, George Bailey" And the scene with the honeymoon and the two guys singing outside the window. And the dance scene with the gym floor and the pool. I usually watch it every other year or so. Sometimes I watch it while addressing Christmas cards.

Also, I kind of love that the only reason it's such a classic is that the studio accidentally let the rights go, so it got played on TV a lot more than other Christmas films. Although I don't love that "a secretary" was blamed on the flub of the lost rights.

balyien said...

It does have a lot of great scenes, for sure! The one with the pharmacist brought me to tears, that little George put himself in harm's way in order to save not only someone's life, but also a grieving man's reputation. /sniffle

I didn't know that detail about the rights. Very interesting!