Monday, December 08, 2008

You Can't Take It With You

The work of director Frank Capra left behind a film term born from his movies--"Capraesque." Such films as It's A Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington are the archetype of a Capra film. A regular guy (it seems Jimmy Stewart is that ultimate regular guy as he's in both the mentioned films + You Can't Take It With You) redeems self with friends/community/love interest after prevailing from some sort of test. Capra films are known for the big emotional payoffs at the end. Some people love that, others don't.

The "Capra" sub-genre, whether it's a film by Capra himself or a person inspired by him, are not movies I usually enjoy. While the films do pull at the heartstrings it often feels these films try too hard to pierce the heart. I don't mind dropping a few tears here and there when watching a movie (check my "tearjerker" stats when I post the 2008 stats in January!) but if there is one thing I ask when watching something--do not manipulate me. Too often that's what a "Capra" film feels like to me.

You Can't Take It With You was a Pulitzer prize winning play in 1936 by George S. Kaufman and Moss Heart (great name). Capra's film adaptation followed two years later and although the source material is not Capra--this has his touches all over it. The surprising thing for me is just how much I loved this story as it unfolded as I'm always slightly leery at the start of a Capra film. There's a sweet romance, social statements and a wild assortment of comedic characters who make the film a lot of fun. The people are just so likable and the cast is top notch--it's impossible to not root for them (damn Capra!).

You Can't Take It With You won two Oscars and was nominated for five others and is centered around the romance of Alice (Jean Arthur) and Tony (Stewart). He's from a very wealthy, snobby family while she's from a rambunctious, eccentric family. The two families meet and it results in explosions (literally. Alice's family enjoys making their own fireworks in the basement among other oddball behavior).

This being the 1930s there are lots of things Capra has to say about the economic depression that still gripped the nation at this time (having not read/seen the play, not sure how much some of the social elements were in it before adapted to film). There's pointed barbs regarding banks (every decent person's villain at this time), the poor, the heartlessness of the wealthy and class elitism. The gulf between the haves and the have nots is not impossible to overcome in this world though (Capra!) but you'd have to be a complete nimrod to miss the messages amid the comedy.

You Can't Take It With You is one of my favorite Capra films--the screwball classic It Happened One Night is one of my favorite films ever so this can't come close to passing that one. It's still a great film though. It's funny, romantic, heartfelt, quirky, not dated at all and gives you a full dose of "Capraisms" (for better or worse). This time I thoroughly enjoyed the sub-genre of Capra. Skip the December cliche that is It's A Wonderful Life and watch You Can't Take It With You instead.

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