It’s a Wonderful Life may have gained its popularity through TV airings, but the chance to see it on the big screen is quite wonderful indeed. I’ve somehow gone my whole life up until tonight without seeing the movie (hey, I’m Jewish and it’s always already midway through whenever I find it channel-surfing). Obviously I’ve been exposed to many parodies, both obvious and less-obvious (I never knew Futurama‘s design for “God” came from here). Tonight, I finally saw the movie at the Brattle Theater, the way it was meant to be seen. No commercials to interrupt the perfect pacing (the movie’s over 2 hours long, but every scene is so entertaining and purposeful it doesn’t feel like it), and a great audience to share in the enjoyment.
Frank Capra’s film has almost everything you could want in a movie. It’s a great comedy in both the modern (it’s quite funny, in ways that are surprisingly quirky and by 1940s Hayes Code standards even a bit raunchy) and classical (it’s a strongly romantic drama that earns its happy ending) senses of the word. It’s a tearjerker that goes into dark places and uplifts without sap. It’s completely of its time yet still relevant today, maybe now more than ever as the Henry Potters of the world hold increasing power. The cast is great (even the child actors are solid), with Jimmy Stewart’s impassioned goodness and Henry Travers’ eccentric humor holding it all together.
There’s only one part of the movie which doesn’t work so well. Not to spoil it for people who don’t know how it goes (yeah, all two of you), but the movie’s most intense moment gets interrupted and undercut by some unintentionally hilarious values dissonance (another plus of seeing the movie in the theater: everyone laughing at that one scene together). Beyond that awkward bit, though, I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about the movie. Perhaps the biggest compliment I could give it: this is one Christmas movie I imagine Jesus himself would appreciate. Well, after he went “WTF, what are these black and white people doing trapped in this flat screen!?!”
It’s a Wonderful Life plays at the Brattle through Monday.