Note: This blog post was written (and has been slightly edited) for my Arts Writing Practicum class, where we had to write a review on something we hated and to devastate it and something we loved and to praise it. This was (obviously) my devastation. My praise was the previous post, An Ode to TVTropes.org.)
I hate the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, and think it’s a horrible idea to watch any time around Christmas. The movie didn’t do well at the box office when it premiered, it is a product of its time and has not aged well at time. While the acting and directing is top notch, and many consider it a classic film, it’s the plot that I have the biggest issue with. The film is almost painful for me to watch, and I cringe anytime I hear about how much of a ‘feel good’ movie it supposedly is.
When all is said and done, it is a severely depressing film. Think about it. George Bailey actually doesn’t get to do any of the traveling or adventures he had wanted to do when he was younger. Instead, he is forced to realize he should be happy with his wife and kids that he didn’t necessarily want, giving up his dreams time and time again. Also, in today’s day and age, is the alternate Pottersville necessarily that bad of a place to live (especially when you consider it was supposedly in or near the Depression)? The casinos and night clubs would be providing economic benefit to its residents as jobs in the town. (Don’t get me started on the threat that without George in her life, Mary is forced to become – gasp – a librarian!) Finally, Potter actually wins in the end, as he gets away scot-free with the $8,000 that Uncle Billy loses; had it not been for the friends and family in the end, Potter would’ve successfully closed the building and loan.
Unless the reason you watch it is for schadenfreude, the idea to watch this as a way to celebrate the holiday spirit is discordant. The only reason I can think of why this is still offered as a Christmas perennial is human nature’s blindness to the power of nostalgia, and the belief that things were so much better in times gone past. The movie reeks of sentimentality and the power of the past, forgetting that while certain things may have been easier, there were definitely areas that were worse (see Pleasantville for an excellent deconstruction of the power of nostalgia for the ’40s and ’50s).
If you’ve never seen It’s a Wonderful Life you are most likely familiar enough with the plot and the movie, as parodied and mocked as it is in TV Christmas specials and in movies such as Gremlins (which uses the basic idea of being careful what you wish for and goes to town with it). But the movie is anything but uplifting: if anything, It’s a Wonderful Life is a morality tale about how sacrificing yourself for others should make you feel grateful when those you’ve helped actually come through back.
Well done, Frank Capra. I feel anything but uplifted when I watch it.