It’s A Wonderful Life: Over-Rated “Classic” [FQ’13 #151]

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

I finally did it. I finally saw It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s the featured film for Christmas Day on Half Popped Reviews, so I felt partially obligated. As a guy who considers himself a movie buff, this was something of a hole in my movie-watching resume, too, so I needed to see it and weigh in.

And I was disappointed.

My expectations weren’t too high. Sure, other people had rated it among the best films ever. Sure, I’m a huge fan of Jimmy Stewart. But my wife has seen it already, a couple times in fact, and she told me not to get my hopes up. I had heard the rhetoric before about how it wasn’t necessarily an uplifting movie, so I went into it with a level head.

Typically I worry about giving away spoilers, but in this case, I won’t pay that too much mind, because by now just about everyone else should’ve seen it. If you haven’t, then you should stop reading now.

Now that the warnings are out of the way, let’s get to it.

Jimmy Stewart was great, as always. He wasn’t just charming in this film, but he really brought George Bailey to life. He gave him character. He took those dreams and aspirations and used it to put a fire behind George’s eyes… and then he found a way to remind us that the fire was extinguished when his life circumstances threw cold water on it. But yet, through Stewart’s portrayal, you really get the sense that he knew that he was doing what was right, and so long as things were going right in the world, he was happy to be the one to support his fellow man.

It-s-A-Wonderful-Life-its-a-wonderful-life-32928306-2826-3371The relationship between George Bailey and Donna Reed’s Mary Bailey (nee Hatch) was an interesting one, and I liked how they used it to further show what George’s asperations were, and how he was feeling about the way his life changed when his father died. If I watch it again, I’ll be sure to pay the most attention to Reed’s character, because I’m not sure whether she’s a driving force, or whether she’s along for the ride. Sure, she plays a huge part in the film’s culmination, but I’m not sure just how in tune with her husband she was along the way. He had huge dreams, he had missed opportunities, and we never get the sense that she cares much about the fact that got stuck in the town he once told her that he wanted to leave. She never has that all-important talk with him about how much he means to the town and the sacrifices he has made for it, and for his family.

Mr. Potter is a decent villain, and although he only gets a few short scenes, you can really understand why George Bailey despises him and what sort of desperation he must be feeling to approach him near the end. He should be ranked among the top movie villains of all time, if we’re to believe It’s A Wonderful Life is such a classic. Because there’s no goodness in the heart of Mr. Potter, and he’s a great foil for Jimmy Stewart’s Bailey.

I had heard that the premise of the film involved a man wishing he had never been born, and then getting the chance to see what the world would be like if he hadn’t. That’s even how the Internet Movie Database establishes the plot: “An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.

I was expecting that part of the story to come at least at the halfway point of the film, but it was much later than that. With such a high-concept, a significant bulk of the time watching the film should be devoted to scenes directly related to that, but they weren’t. In fact, it’s not until over 90 minutes into the 132-minute run-time that the angel comes along to talk directly with George Bailey.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really interesting concept, the acting is great, and there’s a great quality in the writing, but along with all of that, there’s a significant imbalance to how it unfolds. Because of that, I can’t mark it among the greatest films of all time. In fact, I wouldn’t even say it’s an enjoyable movie to watch, and I’d be hard-pressed to watch it a second time.

My Rating: 75/100

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