It's a Wonderful Life Reviews
I struggled for sometime to write a review of this film. I tried to pick apart the elements and pieces of the movie to find why it worked, and it does, but could never really place why. I started by assessed some of the usual parts of a film.
Is the filmography great, fantastic or memorable? Not particularly, but it is certainly strong in a number of places. Usage of shadowing for mood changes and to emphasize the nature of the characters is tastefully done. I will add, please watch the black and white original, the color version does not do this movie justice and many elements are lost.
Acting is the next major area to investigate. The answer again, strong, and well tailored to the film, but not stand out. James Stewart did a good job, but I would not rave about it. The setting is all solid, apple pie america, but not provocative or engrossing. Mr Potter, a passable villain.
The mystery remained though. I cannot help but describe this film as anything other than a simply great movie. I think, perhaps, the simplicity is indeed the magic of this film. The message is profound, albeit sort of obvious, that what really matters is love and humanity for one another. The trick is in telling this sort of tale without resort to cheap ploys or weak story telling.
It struck me that this is a truly accessible film in every way. The film has a quality of production, but it is not too flashy. There is a whimsical childlike approach to all of it, but it is not a kids movie. The love story is innocent and light, but not cheap or hallow. The villain is unlikable, but not a focal study in evil. Its not so much that you want to believe in the film's message to embrace idealism in a grand gesture, but you instead feel that warm sense of humanity for just a little bit. Given the subject of the film, that might be all that is really possible with this theme.
Maybe it is fitting that such a universal message is so well captured in such a universally accessible movie.
So this movie is supposed to be a Christmas classic, but it really does not take place entirely during Christmas. However, I do think it is worth watching during the Christmas season because some important climactic events happen during this holiday, when it is a time to be cheerful and happy. It is tough sometimes to be happy and find reasons why we are still alive and know what good we might have done in our lives, but the film's message is that there is always something good that we have done for others, and they will remember that (and it's probably true vice versa). This movie is one of the most inspiring films I have ever seen.
The acting in the film is overall very good. James Stewart plays George really well. He delivers the right amount of excitement ("my mouth's bleeding"), desperation, anger, and sometimes insanity. Lionel Barrymore plays the grumpy Mr. Harry, um, excuse me, Henry Potter. He does a good job at acting like he thinks he speaks sense, while still taking advantage of the poor people around him. In general, the entire cast, the rest of which includes Donna Reed as Mary Bailey and Henry Travers as Clarence Odbody, are very good in their roles.
The acting really helps elevate the most emotional moments in the movie. If the acting was not good, the moments probably would be less effective. Some inspirational and inspiring moments I liked the most were when George helped Mr. Gower with the pills, Mary's wedding surprise, and Clarence's gift in the end. Even the tragic scenes, though hard to watch, have power in them, like during George's meltdown.
There are a few brief issues I have with some scenes in the film. One is a continuity error where a tombstone for a character who was supposed to be nine years old says he was eight, at most. This is a potential spoiler, but my next fleeting problem with the movie is when during George's stay in the alternate world, there is a sight of an African-American piano player in the bar. This gave me the quick impression that the filmmakers may have been kind of racist, but I don't rest on this for too long. At least the Bailey's have an African-American family maid, and since the bar's manager in the alternate world is supposedly against a lot of atmosphere in his bar, this might just be another continuity error.
As a whole, though, the movie is incredibly inspiring and well-made. "It's a Wonderful Life" is one of my favorite classics that hopefully will live on into the future for many generations.