As the role of the parent in modern society transitions into lifelong guardian, Make Way for Tomorrow turns this modern idea on its head. Offspring and extended family turn to aid their family, after discovering their parents have had their home foreclosed. But their efforts are few and far between, and as much as the offering is present, Make Way for Tomorrow articulates clearly that the family are nowhere close to matching the help offered by their parents long ago. When those children who have flown the nest can’t pick up the pieces for their parents in times of struggle, does that make them bad children or poor members of society? Director Leo McCarey seems to think so.
With parental meddling coming into play rather immediately, Make Way for Tomorrow looks to the little victories it can muster against the accidental and maternal instincts of these weary and worried pensioners. A mother who causes minor havoc by tending to her son as if he were a boy, but the film showcases this with mean-spiritedness and sly anger, rather than musing on the lighter and more emotive theme of such a scenario. Beulah Bondi marks a far more annoying irritant than wholesome and misunderstood elderly companion to a family looking to rid her of their home. McCarey’s direction showcases how prominently the meddling of Lucy Cooper is, and there isn’t much respite or reason to care for her.
Much can be said of the other characters, also, who lack general depth and instead pry at one another. They encroach on the space of one another, the claustrophobia of living with clashing personalities comes to the forefront rather potently, but not enough to suggest anything brilliant is in the works. A tragic circumstance is presented, but the outcome doesn’t make much sense. The brutish way in which the leading characters refuse to think of any other decent proposal is odd, and a tremendous pain considering how little sense it makes. Still, the narrative churns well, plodding along with consistency and strong performances at least, a little tinge of emotion to it all under the premise of separating loved ones. Regardless of consistency, it is a bittersweet feeling to see the reunion of loved ones.
Not as strong as it should have been, Make Way for Tomorrow does at least offer a relatively strong scenario that captures pockets of the late 1930s and its atmosphere. Good for nothing children make for an underlying theme of reflection, wondering whether or not they have wasted their days raising children who couldn’t care for their family tree. But that does imply Lucy and Barkley are more than likeable, it insists that they’re marvellous oddities of an age by and large missing from the modern era. That may be true, but it doesn’t change their elderly attitudes, of which it is difficult to engage with considering their meddlesome and obnoxious moments in the first half of the film. Make Way for Tomorrow leaves itself too late to make an impression, but an admirable effort can still be found.