Monday, March 23, 2015

Movie #303: It's a Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life is one of the more famous films shown around Christmas; due to a copyright niggle it was public domain for a while, so it got shown on TV like whoa. It stars Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, and a bunch of other people. Fun fact: This was my first time seeing it, though of course I was aware of the premise.

Said premise: We open with God, probably, talking about this dude named George Bailey (Stewart) who's on the verge of suicide. We then see his whole freaking life, starting from when he was 12 and saved his brother Harry (Todd Karns, as an adult) from drowning, which cost him his hearing in one ear. He grows up, wanting desperately to get out of his shitty little town, but keeps staying due to, basically, being a decent guy - he stands up for people and is very self-sacrificing when he needs to be. This eventually results in him getting married and settling down, rather than leaving to see the world, and he and his wife Mary (Reed) have four kids.

And then one day his idiot uncle (Mitchell) loses $8000 from their building and loan company (which is promptly stolen by Mr. Potter (Barrymore), the evil rich guy in town). Faced with a bank fraud charge and with losing everything he's ever worked for, Bailey considers suicide. Clarence (Travers), an angel trying to get his wings, stops him, and then Bailey admits he doesn't actually want to die, he just wants to never have been born. Clarence obligingly shows him what the town would have been like without him around to stand up to Potter, and Bailey realizes that he wants his life back. Yay!

So, it's a feel-good movie and it utterly flopped at the box office, but has since become a classic. I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. The dialog was fun, the script is funny pretty much throughout, and since the first 2/3rds of the movie is establishing Bailey and the town, it actually has an impact when we see the characters without his influence. Stewart has a couple of really moving moments, Barrymore is appropriately nasty without actually twirling a mustache. I didn't care much for Clarence, but that's the character more than the actor.

You know me; I like films where people take care of each other, and one thing I found interesting about this one is that when Bailey talks to the people of Bedford Falls, they listen. That's a different narrative take; they're listening now because Bailey has to be the stabilizing influence in town, so his absence can be notable.

Anyway, it's fun, and it's a much happier film than, say, A Christmas Story, which has kind of become its successor in some ways. Runs a little long, but that's really my only complaint.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: The Italian Job