It’s the last few hours of 2016, so I saved the best holiday film for last – It’s a Wonderful Life.
I always tell people that It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t really a holiday film – It’s good all year round, but the final scene does take place on Christmas Eve so I get that it get’s lumped into the holiday movie category. But in my opinion, this film is much more than that.
It’s a Wonderful Life is my favorite Frank Capra film, it’s my favorite Jimmy Stewart film, and it’s my favorite classic film second only to Singin’ in the Rain. It tells the story of George Bailey (Stewart) who, despite having big dreams of travel and business, ends up staying in the same small town he grew up in. Viewing his life through the eyes of his guardian angel, we see all the key moments in his life that led to George’s current state of being. Time and time again, he puts his own desires aside in the name of helping his friends and family. Through his small business efforts, he keeps the tiny town of Bedford Falls from being monopolized by money-grubbing Mr. Potter, “the richest, and meanest man in town,” played to devilish perfection by the brilliant Lionel Barrymore. He makes sacrifices for everyone, and in the end, he feels like a failure, and completely worthless.
Perhaps my favorite element of the film is George’s sweet relationship with his wife Mary, played by Donna Reed. She is the epitome of the perfect match for him, and in many ways, becomes his salvation.
George is told by Mr. Potter that, with his life insurance policy, he’d be worth more dead than alive, and George is sent into a deep despair. He’s considering ending it all, when salvation comes in the form of his guardian angel – Clarence Oddbody, AS2 (angel second class.) In an effort to “earn his wings,” the humorously sweet Clarence (played by Henry Travers) shows George a world in which he had never been born so that he might see what a difference his life has made on so many others.
There are few films that get at the heart of the human experience so elegantly and honestly. Few films portray the struggle, the romance, and the disappointment of the average American. And few that so poignantly affirm the meaning of life and the true definition of success.
It’s a Wonderful Life was released in 1946, but amazingly, I think it especially relevant now. In our corrupt, consumer-driven society obsessed with wealth as the only earmark of success, I think the film’s message is vital. And if you want to watch one last “holiday film” before ringing in 2017, it doesn’t get any better than this one (they even finish the film singing Auld Lang Syne, so bonus!)