This article is part of The Daly Planet Presents: The Twelve Days Of Christmas Movies, a daily series leading up to Christmas Eve 2015. To see all other entries click here
For many years when I was growing up, my family would watch the same Christmas classics each year, including It’s a Wonderful Life. At first, child me was bored by this black and white old movie and barely paid attention, except the part where the gym floor turned into a swimming pool because damn that was weird. But as time went on, it troubled me more and more. Most of the movie is a depressing illustration of a good man being defeated and twisted by disappointment and despair. After suffering through this onslaught, the cheerful resolution feels ultimately hollow and short-lived. With most movies you don’t like, you watch it once and it’s over. You can throw it on the trash heap of memory and never think of it again. But It’s a Wonderful Life is inescapable, and years of repeated viewings have allowed me to hone my discontent. May I present you with everything I yell at the TV when It’s a Wonderful Life is on:
Harry, seriously. You are being a selfish jerk. I don’t care what great opportunity you just got. You should have told your wife straight up it was out of the question. You KNOW your brother didn’t want to take over the Building and Loan and stay in Bedford Falls. I don’t care if he shrugs it off and says it’s all right—he’s just being polite. You promised to take over and you need to do it. He’s given you so much, can’t you get your head out of your ass and do something for him for a change? I know you’re the youngest and used to being indulged, but it’s time to man up. Give George a few years. Let him do his thing. And then, if you really want to move on, you guys can hash it out then. Treat your wife well and there’ll always be an opportunity to work with her dad.
Mary, honey. I know you’ve had your heart set on George Bailey since you were 10, but really? Who makes the best decisions for their future love life when they are 10? I’ve checked my 10 year old crush out on Facebook and it’s not pretty. (Don’t judge. Everyone does it!) So glad I’m not married to that guy. Look, why don’t you listen to George when he says what he wants? You want marriage, children, to refurbish an old house in your hometown and stay there forever. That’s perfectly reasonable and understandable. But George has been telling you, unequivocally, that he wants to leave Bedford Falls and see the world. He wants to design buildings and cities. These things just aren’t reconcilable. Someone is going to be unhappy. Also, when a man opens up to you and tells you his dreams, it’s stone cold heartless to immediately wish for the opposite. And let’s face it, he’s reluctant and rude toward you because he knows that you represent the antithesis of what he wants. You deserve someone who treats you better. Let him go. Maybe he’ll get a taste of what’s out there and realize a hometown girl is where it’s at. In the meantime, look for a partner who shares your goals in life. And being a librarian is actually a pretty awesome gig.
Mr. Gower, why on earth do you keep poison anywhere near the medicine? This makes literally no sense. I pretty sure you can’t legally dispense cyanide pills so maybe you should keep that stuff in the janitorial closet where it belongs. And beating your employees so hard they bleed? Who DOES that?
Ma Bailey, stop meddling. I know you want your son married off to the girl next door with her popping out grandchildren but you need to think about your son’s happiness, not just yours. And you could do more to help run the Building and Loan. Women are perfectly capable. It’s not – depend on your son to take care of you OR rent all the rooms in your house to vagrants.
Mr. Potter: Garlic eaters? That’s a low blow. You’ve clearly never tried garlic, because it’s AWESOME. And Italian food is on the plate of every American child these days. Guess we won that round! Now, on to business. You should read/watch A Christmas Carol sometime. All that money isn’t going to make you happy. Just saying. And really, you need to tone it down with the evil. You are your own worst enemy here. If you stopped acting like such a giant douche all the time, you could have the town handed to you on a silver platter. You know half the reason the Bailey family is willing to sacrifice their own happiness to keep you out of power is because they hate you right? Because you go out of your way to taunt them? Two words: public relations. Maybe throw a few nice events for the town, sponsor some charities, stop being quite so greedy, and actually try to act pleasant, and people won’t see Mr. Potter as the antithesis of all things good that must be fought against at all costs. And then, you win.
Sam: “Hee haw?” WTF is that? Are you some kind of donkey? Do you actually think that is cute? If you’re wondering why Mary chose George Bailey over you, look no further.
Bedford Falls townspeople: May I suggest that if you truly appreciate and depend on someone, you show your gratitude before they hit rock bottom and are on the brink of suicide. George Bailey spends so much of his time busting his ass for you lot, he doesn’t even have time to fix up his own house. Surely there’s got to be a carpenter out there who owes George a favor and can fix that damn banister? And put in some insulation and seal some of the cracks so it’s not so drafty? And by the way, adding a pool hall and a dance club to the town wouldn’t be a tragedy. It might just add some much-needed fun in the town and keep it economically vibrant. Think about it.
And lastly…George, I get it. You’re a good guy in a hard position. You want one thing and it seems the entire world is pushing you in another direction. You feel trapped by guilt and obligation, so you swallow it down and endure because you don’t want to be the bastard that ruins everything for everyone. But all this self-abnegation has made you a worse person. You hold it in and hold it in and hold it in, and then all your repressed frustration and rage burst out at your wife and children and other random people. You should have stood up to your brother Harry when he failed to keep his promise; instead you take it out on poor Mary, whose biggest crime is foolishly thinking she could domesticate you. You think of yourself as a saint because you gave up everything that you ever wanted, but it’s turned you into an asshole. You need to find some balance here. You can’t take care of everyone else until you take care of yourself. I know you think you’ve turned around and are going to appreciate your life now, but in a few months, you’ll be back to hating everything. Hire a manager to help run the Building & Loan. Ask for help. Take some vacations. Take up some hobbies. Come up with an exit plan. And don’t let Uncle Billy handle money. Ever. We both know he’s 26 cards short of a deck. Find something for him to do to make him feel useful, but nothing that actually matters.
So there you have it – my take on this frustrating movie. Perhaps if the filmmaker hadn’t laid it on so thick, perhaps if the contrast between the life George wanted and the life he has wasn’t so stark, perhaps if he’d made an informed choice to abandon his dreams, perhaps if George EVER got a break, perhaps if the movie had focused more on how George is actually fulfilled by the life he has, I might find the happy conclusion more believable. But as it stands, it just doesn’t resonate with me. I’d rather watch almost anything else this holiday season than George Bailey being crushed under the wheel of obligation for the umpteenth time. Give me all your clichéd Hallmark specials, your bad 60s stop animation cartoons, your cheesy, not so funny holiday comedies. Just don’t make me watch It’s a Wonderful Life again.