Quick Hit: It’s easily a classic, despite scenes that continue to age with time.
Whenever you bring up Christmas movies, It’s a Wonderful Life inevitably comes up. It’s, in some ways, the quintessential holiday film – angels, Christmas, change of heart, and the meaning of life itself. This is despite the fact that the film essentially revolves around Christmas, and not necessarily about Christmas’s meaning. If you haven’t seen this movie, I’m sorry because I’m about to spoil the plot for you. However, since it’s been talked about and parodied for 70 years (the anniversary was this year), I don’t really feel that bad.
IAWL follows George Bailey through life, as narrated by the angels, who appear as stars (or possibly galaxies). We see him continually give things up for the good of others – most namely his family (his brother, father, and uncle), but also the members of the town he lives in: Bedford Falls. However, things in his life continually have pressure (don’t all lives?) and one Christmas Eve he reaches his breaking point. He is on the verge of committing suicide so that he may yet save his family from shame (there’s a plot here with an evil banker and his blustering uncle, along with THE FEDS) by dying so they may cash in his life insurance policy. Enter Clarence, a blustering angel who has yet to “win” his wings. He shows George a world where he was never born, and it isn’t for the better: the evil banker owns the town and his brother (who George saved at a young age from drowning), has died.
So essentially, the world sucks without George, causing him to decide he wants to be back. There is the obligatory happy ending. The end.
IAWL has aged quite a bit in 70 years. A lot of the acting is a bit hammy (I love you James Stewart, but some of your intense romance scenes are a little much for me (despite the fact that Rear Window is one of my favorite movies)). The humor has aged, and old man Potter is a caricature of an old, evil man. But given the age of the movie, he may have formed that cliché. Who knows.
I think what truly is the best thing about this movie is that everyone has been George Bailey at least once. We’ve all seen a member of our family move on while we are left behind, and we are all jealous at least once. But most of us also take George’s path – we accept that things are hard, and continue to live the life we have. I think the part that hits home hardest is when George comes home and he is obviously upset, but he tries to sit with his family anyway. He ends up taking it out on his children and wife, in a heartbreaking scene. I can’t help but think of days when I have had hard days and I’m not happy with my children. They don’t understand why I’m not upset. I can only pray that I take this movie to mind whenever I think my kids are being too much.
For all the things that make this movie a Christmas classic, I’m going to give It’s A Wonderful Life a “B+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"