It’s a Wonderful Life Review

Whimsical charms are at the forefront of many Christmas classics. Nothing too heavy, the likes of Home Alone and Elf never dealt with the knock-on effects of stress and the commercialisation of a religious holiday. In fact, those films revel in the idea that crowds of people are flocking to supermarkets or to swanky holidays across the globe, hoping for some brief escapism. It’s a Wonderful Life offers moments of that escapism, but the underlying venom found in the prose of director Frank Capra is clear as the day is long. Capturing the love and beauty of this festive, snowy season, but twisting the knife lodged in the back of honest, hardworking individuals all the same.  

The inhabitants of the snowy town Bedford Falls rely on George Bailey (James Stewart), a man who does nothing but give to the people he loves. An honest and hardworking lead finds himself in real trouble when $8,000 goes missing. A spiral soon begins, a manic journey through the villainous heart of Christmas and festive tidings. Meetings with guardian angels and a reflection on how life isn’t really all that bad. Vaguely similar pangs of A Christmas Carol and how awful it all seems when looking to the future or to the bleakness of how a life led slightly differently would lead to morally bankrupt mischief. Horrible moments in history make themselves abundantly clear, the knock-on effect found within the dark recesses of what few horrid people reside in town make for a fascinating story. A few bad apples spoil it for everyone, or very nearly so, as Capra so earnestly captures here.  

Vile and villainous oligarch Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) makes for good ballast here, sparring well with Bailey. Yin and yang in the form of two talented leads. Stewart is expectedly brilliant, nothing but class and intensity from such a powerful on-screen presence. Nice and honest, he is rightly hailed as a genuine hero, a through and through good person, Stewart presents that nicely. There are a couple of moments that, inevitably, have not aged well, but it rarely detracts from the hardworking nature Bailey represents. Sacrificing his dreams for his family, it’s a story featured in many a film, but It’s a Wonderful Life captures the earnestness of such a necessity.  

Surprisingly full of depth and engaging musings, but also capturing the magic of the holiday season. It’s a Wonderful Life starts off bleak, brushes itself off with surprising lack of care, and instead focuses in further and further on those same few brutal moments. Excessive and indulgent but with a wry smile and a glimmer in its eye, It’s a Wonderful Life is in on the joke, the hatred of its own kitsch and the tragedy of death represented with feverishly evocative scenes. Our lives may feel bleak, but they could be bleaker, keep that in mind as we trundle towards the new year, praying for one brief respite of madness.  

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