Merry Christmas, bitches!
What better way to celebrate the holiday than by indulging in a treacly piece of Capra-corn? By this of course I mean It's a Wonderful Life, the Christmas movie starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. It's equal parts depressing and uplifting, and it's a great holiday film...if you're willing to forgive it for inspiring a battalion of trite ripoffs on every TV show ever, from Married With Children to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Beavis and Butthead.
The movie begins with everyone in town praying for George Bailey. I'm already about to start vomiting rainbows and sunshine. The whole town is praying so loud that God decides to send Clarence the Crappy Angel Who Doesn't Even Have His Wings Yet to help out George (presumably just to get them all to shut the hell up).
So we see the life of George Bailey. He's a young man from a small town, but he has dreams of travelling the world, going to college, and becoming an architect. Unfortunately his plans repeatedly get put on hold, as Life says Not so fast, Georgie, I've got some more shit I want to throw at you. He isn't able to go to college until he saves up money. Once he's got enough, his father has a stroke and dies. The practical result of which is that he has to stay and take care of the bank, so Douchebag Potter doesn't turn the entire town into the Baltic and Mediterranean part of the Monopoly board.
He gives his college money to his little brother...and then the little shit goes ahead and repays him by getting a new job, so that George has to stay at the bank. That's gratitude for you. No one deserves George Bailey, I tell you, no one.
So George stays in his soul-crushing job, marries Mary, and has a gaggle of children. Slowly all his dreams fade away until he's just this sad guy trudging through life, coming home late every night to a drafty old house in disrepair. Then things get depressing. Because Potter's a total fucking Grinch (and when I say Grinch, I say it with full "How I Met Your Mother" subtext) and steals money from the Building and Loan, making them think that old forgetful Uncle Bill lost it. George thinks he's going to jail, and he decides to jump off a bridge so that his family can at least collect on his insurance policy.
Enter Clarence. Who shows George how terrible a world without him would really be. Apparently without George Bailey, Potter turns Bedford Falls into what I can only describe as a really shitty version of Atlantic City. His younger brother Harry died as a kid, Mary's a spinster librarian, and everything just has this vague depressing feeling. But most importantly, he gets to see how many people he's been able to help in his seemingly insignificant life, and rediscovers his will to live.
He goes home, overjoyed, only to find the entire town at his house, ready to donate money so to cover the missing cash. Suck on that, Potter!
- I'm not being funny, but why are the angels...flashing galaxies?
- I'm not sure I'm totally on board with a twelve year old working at a pharmacy. Although I guess it works out for the best.
- "I'm gonna have a couple of harems, and maybe three or four wives!" Bless your heart.
- This Potter fellow is clearly Harry Potter's grandfather, and he doesn't want to give any money to the stupid Muggles in his town. That's why Harry was so rich...his grandpa was a curmudgeonly banker!
|Sorry, sometimes it just happens.|
- Can we just pause for a moment and appreciate the fact that there's a cop named Bert and a cabbie named Ernie...and they're apparently BFFs? This makes me happy on so many levels.
- I am ridiculously amused by the pool underneath the gym floor. Only in Beverly Hills.
- "What is it you want, Mary? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down." OK, George, I have to admit, you know how to woo a girl, because that's a ridiculously sweet thing to say.
- I love George trying to debate whether or not he should give Mary her robe back. It's such a fun, youthful moment...one that is totally 100% ruined by his father's stroke.
- OK, I have to say it. The fact that George told Mary that he would lasso the moon for her: cute. The fact that she made a needlepoint depicting George lassoing the moon: a little creepy.
- "He's making violent love to me, Mother!" I love you, Mary. From now until forever.
- God seems a little conflicted on this one. He goes to all the trouble to send an angel down to stop George from killing himself, but wouldn't it have been easier for him to have not played a game of Job with George's entire life?? I mean, fate really has it out for this guy.
- Why is there a freaking bird in the Building and Loan? Don't they have enough to worry about without having to deal with bird shit everywhere?
- Maybe I'm old fashioned, but my general feeling is that you probably shouldn't have an old, borderline senile man in a position of authority at a bank. Particularly not one who has to tie strings around his fingers to remember pretty basic tasks.
- "I'm an old man and people hate me, but I don't like them either, so that makes it all equal." Say what you will about Potter, but at least he tells it like it is.
- Interesting factoid: although George Bailey wasn't allowed to enlist because of his bad ear, James Stewart served in WWII and was the second highest ranking film actor in military history -- second only to Commander in Chief Ronald Reagan.
- "What do you want to do, hawk your furs?" Um...not to be a Scrooge, but yeah. Violet should probably sell some of her furs before crawling to George for money. Just a thought.
- Yeah, no offense to George, I realize he's stressed out and doesn't want to go to jail and is disappointed in his life, but...well:
- Frank Capra really had a gift for casting seriously adorable kids. Like, the little girl who plays Zuzu is probably the cutest kid in the history of the world.
- This was pretty much my face while Jimmy Stewart was sitting in the bar praying.
- How is it against the law to commit suicide? Anyone guilty wouldn't really be in a position to go to jail.
- Angels have a caste system? I wonder if second class angels without any wings have to ride around on the back of the buses in heaven? That doesn't seem like something God would endorse.
- "Well this is where I left my car and it isn't here." Been there, George.
- OMG, I just can't handle the scene when the poor pharmacist shows up at the bar and gets sprayed with seltzer. He's just this sad, pathetic, frail old man and it literally breaks my heart into two distinct pieces.
- Aww...even in the alt universe, Bert and Ernie are best friends. Some love can withstand even the power of angels.
- LOL at Donna Reed trying to look like a plain spinster librarian. I'll say it again: Donna Reed.
|Nice try, sweetheart.|
- I wonder how the other kids feel about Zuzu being the obvious favorite? I mean, it's pretty clear George loves her way more than the others.
|The self-satisfied smile of a child secure in the fact that her parents love her the most.|
I can definitely identify with George. I love to travel, and it would literally kill me to have to give up my trip to Europe. But I also know that I would stay home in a second if my family needed me. George's dreams are so grand, and he's such a good person, so it's frustrating to see his ambitions fall by the wayside as life and circumstances come along. But just because his old dreams end up largely unfulfilled doesn't mean that the things that take their place are worthless. George never got to travel, or become an architect, or any of the things he set out to do at age 18, and that's OK. What's important is being able to find meaning and joy in the things that he has accomplished.
I think it also says a lot about Jimmy Stewart's emotional state after serving in the war, that he was able to access George's feelings so easily. I know that he wasn't up for making a romantic comedy or something as sugary and optimistic as Mr Smith Goes to Washington. I think that a movie like this, which is emotionally complex but ultimately uplifting, was the perfect film for him to make.
So it pretty much goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that I really like It's a Wonderful Life. I usually watch it every holiday season, because I do find the cheesy emotions in this film (the one's that Frank Capra is so well known for) to be grounded in reality and easily relatable. Jimmy Stewart is in peak form here, and it's a little hard to believe that his iconic performance didn't win him an Oscar for this movie. Such is life!
Thanks for reading, and come back next time when I promise I will be reviewing Get Carter!