In Defense of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

When I was invited by The Classic Movie Muse to join their It’s a Wonderful Life Blogathon, I had no idea what to write about. Because there are so many moving parts to this seventy-five-year-old film, it was kind of overwhelming to choose just one aspect. But then I remembered an editorial written by fellow blogger, J-Dub. On their blog, Dubsism, they have a series called ‘Movies Everybody Loves That I Hate’. The first entry was about It’s a Wonderful Life. In this editorial, J-Dub explains, without the sugar-coating, bells, or whistles, why they don’t like the Christmas classic. While I respect J-Dub’s opinion, I personally disagree with them. These differing viewpoints inspired me to write my editorial, where I defend It’s a Wonderful Life. Like I have said in previous editorials, my article is not meant to be mean-spirited or negative. It is only meant to express my opinion and present a different view to the subject of It’s a Wonderful Life. If you are interested in reading J-Dub’s article, you can visit their blog at dubsism.com.

It’s A Wonderful Life Blogathon: A 75th Anniversary Celebration banner created by The Classic Movie Muse from The Classic Movie Muse

Debunking the “Lie” of It’s a Wonderful Life

Throughout the editorial, ‘Movies Everybody Loves That I Hate’: Episode 1 – “It’s A Wonderful Life”, J-Dub claims the film is a lie. They believe the film is not only filled with nihilism, but that Pottersville is wrongfully villainized. J-Dub also says the film tells the viewer they are among “jerks who will crush our dreams for no other reason so they can suck the life out of us”. This statement relates to J-Dub’s belief that everyone in George’s life is trying to hold him back. For this part of the editorial, I’m going to discuss three points. The first point is about Pottersville. While the glitzy sparkle of the “dream town” may give the appearance of a successful paradise, it’s what the city represents that is important.

When George first visits Pottersville, he is unfamiliar with his surroundings. Beloved locals have drastically changed, but so have its citizens. One of these citizens is Nick, a bartender who works at Martini’s Bar. In the “dream town”, Nick owns the bar. With this ownership comes a mean attitude. He not only treats George and Clarence horribly, he also embarrasses Mr. Gower. The pharmacist in this “dream town” is now an ostracized criminal who is known for poisoning a patient. This leads me to my second point. The idea of success is not a bad one. However, it has the ability to change people for the worse. Pottersville is also the complete opposite of Bedford Falls, with Bedford Falls representing familiarity. Why do so many movie studios and companies choose to revisit well known franchises and IPs? It’s because they can, sometimes, capitalize on a fandom’s familiarity with certain characters and stories. Familiarity can also be experienced during the Christmas/holiday season, as people may choose to gather with those they are familiar with or carry on familiar traditions. Therefore, Bedford Falls’ representation of familiarity debunks J-Dub’s claim of the film containing nihilism.

My third point involves the people in George’s life. Earlier in this part of my argument, I mentioned how J-Dub feels the characters surrounding George are holding him back. But when you pay attention to what these same characters are saying and doing, this is not the case. Let me bring up Mary as just one example. Ever since they were children, Mary knew George wanted to travel the world. That was the plan after they got married. But when the Bailey Building & Loan was in financial trouble due to the Great Depression, those plans quickly changed. After seeing George desperately trying to help his clients, it was Mary’s idea to use their honeymoon money to pay these clients. To make up for the financial sacrifice, Mary organizes a honeymoon dinner at the infamous Sycamore House. The living room in this house is decorated with posters of faraway lands. Music fills the room to help elaborate the immersion of travel. Throughout the scene, Bert and Ernie can be seen assisting Mary in her plan of giving George a thoughtful alternative. If she was truly a “millstone” around George’s neck, why would Mary bother helping George save the Building & Loan on more than one occasion? Why would she plan the honeymoon dinner on the same day as the aforementioned crisis? Heck, why would Mary take the time to pray for George at the beginning of the movie? Personally, I think Mary serves as George’s reminder of what really matters the most.

Because this blogathon is celebrating one of the most iconic Christmas movies of all time, I thought sharing my cat ornament would make sense. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

George is the “Every Person”, Not a Criminal

A point J-Dub stresses in their editorial is how George Bailey is a criminal. This is because they see the protagonist as “a predatory lender” by “economically enslaving a large part of the town’s population by saddling them with debt they can never pay”. There are instances throughout the movie where Bailey’s Building & Loan is struggling to get by. Potter has explained the operations of “Bailey Park”, where the homes are lower in initial value. But these things are not done to cheat the system or live above the law. As the audience can see even from George’s younger years, the folks at Bailey’s Building & Loan simply care about people.

When the viewer is first introduced to George’s father, he is conducting a meeting with Potter. In this meeting, Potter claims the establishment’s payments are late. While this statement is true, Mr. Bailey tells Potter he is waiting payment from his clients, as he extended their deadline in order to prevent them from losing their homes. As George grows up and eventually takes over the Building & Loan, he chooses to follow in his father’s footsteps by putting the customer first. The purpose of “Bailey Park” was to provide their customers with the option of owning a house, instead of renting one through Potter. Even when Uncle Billy loses the $8,000 the Building & Loan needs to stay afloat, the situation is nothing more than an accident. Though Potter does threaten to have George arrested for the missing $8,000, he does this because he thinks his plan will help him finally achieve the Building & Loan, the same establishment he has always wanted to own. As George’s father said about Potter, “He hates anybody that has what he can’t have”.

George Bailey is one of the most beloved characters in not only the realm of Christmas movies, but within the world of cinema. Like I said in the title of my second argument, George is the “every person”, which makes him a memorable and likable character. Throughout the story of It’s a Wonderful Life, George experiences his ups and downs. He can become so frustrated, he destroys the architectural corner of his living room. But there are moments where he places others before himself, with George helping Violet start a new chapter in her life by giving her money as one example. Even though George’s life plays out differently from those in the audience, it does contain a sense of relatability. While working in the drug store one day, George is mistreated by Mr. Gower. The pharmacist physically hurts and yells at George for not delivering a bundle of pills. During this ordeal, George stands up to his employer, explaining how the pharmacist mistakenly placed poison in the pill capsules. This mistake was caused by Mr. Gower’s consuming grief, due to his son, Robert, dying of Influenza. Everyone has experienced a time in their life when bravery was needed. Because bravery can look different for each individual, the audience may see George’s decision as a huge step in his story. They may also see it as “something big, something important”.

Similar to what I said about my cat ornament, I thought posting my Christmas tree from last year would make sense for this editorial. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

Standing Up for Clarence

Another aspect of disagreement between J-Dub and I is Clarence the Angel. J-Dub is not a fan of this character. They claim Clarence uses “predatory skills” to give George a false narrative by “misrepresenting reality in order to make an exceptionally nihilistic point”. Even as the film begins, the script makes it pretty clear Clarence really wants to earn his wings. But if you’ve been waiting over 200 years to get what you wanted, you’d make sure you did your job as best you could. Plus, with Clarence having the “heart of a child”, he wants to find the best in George’s character. While Clarence accepts his mission with awaiting wings in mind, he is not selfish. At the end of the film, Clarence gives George his copy of Tom Sawyer. Also, when George makes his ultimate wish of having never been born, Clarence gives George what he wants. But this granted wish is used as a teachable moment; showing how getting what you want doesn’t always mean getting it the way you want.

The “dream world” Clarence creates was never meant to be literal or mess up time. Instead, this exaggerated alternate universe was simply a visual example of a very important point. After being kicked out of Nick’s Bar in the “dream world”, Clarence tells George “Each man’s life touches so many other lives”. Even though this can be said about any other character in this film, George is the one who needed to hear it the most. At that point in the story, George is filled with fear, insecurities, and self-doubt. In fact, one of George’s reasons for considering suicide was Potter’s harsh claim that George is “worth more dead than alive”. If it’s anybody giving a false narrative, it’s Potter. With that said, Clarence tries to expose Potter’s lies throughout his mission.

Since Clarence is an angel, sharing this angel ornament was appropriate for this part of the editorial. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

George Plays His Part

In their editorial, J-Dub claims George “runs into a gigantic example of “crab in the bucket” syndrome”. This connects to their previously stated belief that the people in George’s life are holding him back. Toward the beginning of the film, George told his father he wanted to do “something big, something important”. That’s why he had dreams of going to college to become an architect. George’s father reminds him how working at the Building & Loan is important, as they are helping people acquire a home. As the story plays out, George’s father is proven right. Another way Mr. Bailey is proven right is during World War II. Everyone in Bedford Falls does their part to help the war effort. One of George’s responsibilities is hosting various drives, such as a scrap metal drive. Even though this seems like a small role in the grand scheme of things, it is “something big, something important”. United States history will tell you every aspect of the war effort provided a huge help in winning World War II. This includes things like scrap metal drives, as the metal was used to create weapons and machinery for the U.S. troops. Having those materials available was not only “big”, but “important” as well. George’s role may not have been glamourous like Potter’s life or news worthy like Harry’s military achievements. But to everyone who was helped by George, his role made a tremendous difference.

Cute Christmas image created by freepik at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Backgroundvector created by freepik – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

In Conclusion

Though this editorial was submitted to celebrate the 75th anniversary of It’s a Wonderful Life, it was written to present a different opinion from that of a fellow blogger. J-Dub is not wrong for disliking this film and I’m not correct for defending it. What I’m emphasizing is how subjective film is. Both J-Dub and I approached the same movie. We each wrote an editorial, presenting the material in two differing ways. This provides more content for the reader and an opportunity to keep the conversation going. Maybe this is why It’s a Wonderful Life has been well-regarded for so long. Remember when I said how there are so many moving parts to this film? Well, I’m starting to realize that’s the beauty of it. No matter which aspect of the story you choose, there’s a conversation waiting to be spoken. With that said, I hope you check out J-Dub’s editorial. They put as much work into theirs as I did into mine. When it comes to blogathons, that’s what it’s really all about.

Have fun at the anniversary!

Sally Silverscreen

Sally Watches…Touched by an Angel (Again)!

As I mentioned in my recent Word On The Street story, the newest Signed, Sealed, Delivered movie is on its way. Premiering on October 17th, this movie will bring their audience a new chapter to a story that started all the way back in 2013. The series is executive produced by Martha Williamson, who also executive produced Touched by an Angel. Similar to Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Touched by an Angel has seen many guest stars appear over the course of the show’s nine season life-span. One of them was Bai Ling, who guest starred on Touched by an Angel in 1998.

Even though I have seen many episodes of Touched by an Angel before, I don’t recall ever seeing the two-part episode, “The Spirit of Liberty Moon”, the episode I’ll be reviewing for this post. Prior to writing this article, I had heard it was “one of the most moving episodes from the television drama”. With curiosity getting the better of me and because Bai’s birthday is on October 10th, I decided to revisit this show and review this particular episode. Two years ago, I wrote about another Touched by an Angel episode, “The Sky Is Falling”. Like that post, what will be discussed is what I liked about this episode, what I didn’t like about this episode, the story itself, the other factors from this episode, and my overall thoughts.

This is a screenshot of one of the Touched by an Angel DVDs I own. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

What I liked about this episode:

Last November, I reviewed an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street titled “And The Rockets Dead Glare”. In that post, I talked about how, while portraying Teri Chow, Bai was forced to rely on emotion instead of actions. This was compared to her characters in The Crow and Lost; Myca and Achara. Because of how effectively she used emotion, Bai was the stand-out actor in “And The Rockets Dead Glare”! I’ve seen only a handful of projects from Bai’s filmography. Despite this, I have noticed that she has a strong sense of emotionality. She not only knows how to control that emotionality, but also how to use that control to her advantage. Portraying a character named Jean Chang, the emotions Bai brought to her role in “The Spirit of Liberty Moon” felt realistic and genuine. Earlier in the episode, Jean crosses paths with Monica and Edward, a toy company CEO, at a local Chinese restaurant. In an attempt to recruit her for an upcoming business trip, they ask Jean why she doesn’t want to go to China. This is where Jean explains her very heart-breaking life story. Throughout this explanation, Bai’s emotions flawlessly adapted with each part of Jean’s story, ranging from blissful reminiscing to tear-inducing sadness. This strength in Bai’s acting abilities allows her performance to contain depth. It also gave the audience a reason to feel empathy/sympathy for Jean.

What I didn’t like about this episode:

One of Edward’s co-workers is his friend, Alex Stella. Throughout “The Spirit of Liberty Moon”, Alex was rude and self-centered, especially toward Jean. It got to the point where his attitude became so annoying, it was tiresome to watch him in a static state. I understand Alex was meant to show the viewer that, sometimes, people won’t change, no matter how hard you try. I’ll also admit this is not a bad lesson to teach. But because of this episode’s story and because of the nature of Touched by an Angel, I wish the angels had paid Alex a visit and opened his eyes to selflessness.

The story itself:

Touched by an Angel is a show that was not afraid to take creative risks. “The Spirit of Liberty Moon” is a perfect example of that statement. I haven’t seen the movie, Red Corner, but I am familiar with its basic premise. The story of “The Spirit of Liberty Moon” is very reminiscent of the film due to topics discussed within the script. Criticism of China’s government and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests are the two major subjects revolving around this episode. Because of the serious nature of these subjects, “The Spirit of Liberty Moon” was heart-breaking and gut-wrenching. Similar to the Touched by an Angel episode, “The Sky Is Falling”, the story of “The Spirit of Liberty Moon” is a fictional narrative wrapped up in a real-life historical event. During Jean’s recollection of her past, black-and-white flashbacks and video footage of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests were shown on screen. The use of these visual techniques presented an interesting and creative way to discuss a piece of world history.

The other factors from this episode:

  • As I mentioned earlier, Alex is rude and self-centered, especially toward Jean. To further explain my point, I will bring up two examples from this episode. When Monica suggests a translator should join their business trip to China, Alex suggests speaking to Jean about the idea. While Edward assumes Jean’s ethnicity based on her appearance, Alex carries that assumption into his and Monica’s meeting with Jean. Even though Jean calls Alex out on his assumptions during this meeting about the aforementioned idea, Alex’s promotion of the idea itself should have been more professional. When Alex, Edward, and Monica have lunch at a local Chinese restaurant, Jean soon arrives. The three then discover Jean had lied about her ethnicity. Upset by this discovery, Alex approaches Jean and yells at her in public, accusing her of lying about other things. I understand Alex was disappointed by Jean’s decision. Even Jean admitted that her decision was wrong. But, like I said about the previous example, Alex could have handled this situation more professionally and in private.
  • Throughout the episode, Edward and Jean develop “romantic” feelings for one another. I’m using the word “romantic” loosely, as the only romantic gestures they perform are holding hands and Edward kissing Jean’s head. When a romantic relationship is introduced in a movie or television show, it is usually done with an endgame in mind. Without giving anything away, there wasn’t an endgame for Jean and Edward’s relationship. Their relationship also felt “insta-love”, as it progressed at a quick pace. With all that said, I don’t think a romantic relationship was necessary for this particular story.
  • Touched by an Angel shows the angels going undercover in different professions based on an episode’s mission. In “The Spirit of Liberty Moon”, Monica goes undercover as the Chinese consultant of Edward’s toy company. As Monica interacts with Edward and Alex, I was confused why Monica was the Chinese consultant instead of Jean. When Alex was explaining what Monica would do on their business trip, it made me wonder why Jean wasn’t originally recruited for the consultant position, especially since she knows more about China than Monica. But, without giving anything away, it makes sense why this choice was not made.

My overall thoughts:

“The Spirit of Liberty Moon” is a tough episode to write about. On the one hand, I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from watching it. It contains one of the strongest stories in the show’s history and features strong acting performances, especially from Bai Ling. On the other hand, “The Spirit of Liberty Moon” is not for the faint of heart. This episode is so emotionally intense, I was left mentally drained after watching it. Because of that, the episode doesn’t have a high re-watchability rate. What I will say is this story is an important one. In fact, I would say this episode’s story is one of the most important Touched by an Angel has ever told. So, if you’re interested in watching “The Spirit of Liberty Moon”, my advice would be to watch it in the right headspace. Speaking of Bai Ling, I realized something while watching this episode. As I said earlier, I’ve seen only a handful of projects from Bai’s filmography. Based on her roles I have seen, I noticed how her characters are, more often than not, surrounded by unfortunate circumstances. Myca is one of the villains of The Crow, so her unfortunate circumstances don’t cause the audience to feel any empathy/sympathy for her. But for Teri, Achara, and now Jean, their unfortunate circumstances can, to varying degrees, cause feelings of empathy/sympathy from the audience. During my movie blogging journey, I hope to see Bai portraying a character whose circumstances are more fortunate and happier.

Rating: A solid 4 out of 5

Birthday cake image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/chocolate-birthday-cakes-collection_765437.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/birthday”>Birthday vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

Have you watched Touched by an Angel? If so, which episode is your favorite? Please tell me in the comment section!

Have fun on television!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Date with an Angel Review

Teen movies from the ‘80s are September’s theme for Genre Grandeur! Since I knew some of the other participants would talk about more well-known movies from this particular selection, I decided to choose a film that doesn’t always get included in the conversation. On the website, Ranker, there was a list focusing on the greatest teen movies of the ‘80s. A film called Date with an Angel was placed on that list. I have not seen or heard of this title prior to this year. Based on its synopsis, Date with an Angel, shares a similar premise with the film, Splash. While I haven’t seen the 1984 movie in many years, I do remember enjoying it. Because of this, I believed there was a chance I might like Date with an Angel!

Date with an Angel poster created by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group. Image found at https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092834/mediaviewer/rm1734887424

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: While I don’t watch soap operas, I am aware its actors and actresses are required to give a consistent performance in every episode. I was told Michael E. Knight starred on All My Children as Tad Martin. From what I could tell from his performance in Date with an Angel, his soap opera experiences seemed to have paid off! Michael’s portrayal of Jim felt genuine, as the different expressions he showcases appear believable! This is especially the case anytime Jim interacts with the Angel. When he first encounters her after his bachelor party, the shock and awe of the situation can be seen on his face. Very little dialogue is needed to express the feelings in a moment like that one. Speaking of little dialogue, the Angel herself barely has any lines in this movie. Portrayed by Emmanuelle Béart, she was able to use the lack of dialogue to her advantage by relying on facial expressions and body language. In a scene where Jim is determining if the Angel’s wing is healed, she winces and hides her face from him. The consistency of the performance is also what worked in Emmanuelle’s favor. Another actress that did a good job with the acting material she was given was Phoebe Cates! What I liked about her performance was how emotional it was. As the movie progresses, Phoebe’s character, Patty, transforms from a beloved socialite to a woman who let jealousy get the best of her. Similar to Michael and Emmanuelle, Phoebe effectively incorporated facial expressions into her portrayal.

The music: I was really impressed by the soundtrack found in Date with an Angel! One of the best uses of music in this film takes place in a scene where the Angel and Jim find a treehouse in the middle of the forest. When this happens, the song, ‘The Finer Things’ by Steve Winwood, plays in the background, emphasizing how the simpler things in life are, sometimes, the best. There were times when music highlighted the tone of a particular scene. Anytime Jim is with his friends, rock tunes are heard. Meanwhile, piano/music-box music softly plays in the scenes featuring Jim and the Angel. This musical collection definitely added enjoyment to the movie’s audio!

The use of light and fog: Anytime the Angel appears in Date with an Angel, she is highlighted through the use of light and fog. A great example is when the Angel first lands in Jim’s pool. The lights from the pool are the primary source of light in this scene. Fog wraps around the pool area, creating a mysterious oasis with its presence. These creative techniques emphasized how magical and otherworldly the Angel was. In the scenes where the Angel and Jim are in the forest, fog could be seen in the background. Because of its inclusion, it made this location feel secluded, almost like it was Heaven on earth.

String of musical notes image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/pentagram-vector_710290.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a> <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Backgroundvector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

The Angel is not her own character: In Splash, having a mermaid engage with the human world was a phenomenon. However, Madison was not defined by her mermaid roots. Not only was this character given a name (Madison, in this case), but she was also given her own dialogue. This allowed Madison to play a significant contribution to Splash’s plot. The Angel in Date with an Angel was presented more as a phenomenon than a character. As I mentioned before, the Angel wasn’t given a lot of dialogue. She also didn’t receive a name, being simply referred to as “Angel”. The other characters viewed her as a rarity instead of another individual who happened to appear human. Seeing the Angel not be her own character was disappointing.

Jim’s insignificant composing dreams: Date with an Angel’s synopsis on IMDB reveals that Jim is “an aspiring composer”. Because this particular occupation is not often found in contemporary stories on film, I was curious to see how this would factor into the overall plot. While this detail was brought up on a few occasions, it never served an important part of the story. Music was not used to resolve any conflicts or make any personal discoveries. In retrospect, Jim could have held almost any occupation and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

The cosmetics campaign subplot: One of the subplots in Date with an Angel revolves around Patty’s father trying to salvage a cosmetics advertising campaign. He ultimately decides on finding the Angel so she can be the new face of the campaign. The subplot itself supplies an interesting concept to the overall story. But shortly after this subplot is introduced, it’s quickly dropped from the movie. I found this to be a shame because it could have provided commentary to the plot. One example is how natural beauty is more timeless than the power of any piece of make-up.

I found this angel in my house and I knew it’d be perfect for this review! Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

My overall impression:

Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”. This is a message Date with an Angel needed to hear. While its inevitable for stories to be repeated over time, this movie felt like an imitation of Splash. As I said in the introduction, I haven’t seen Splash in many years. Therefore, I can’t say if it is a better movie than Date with an Angel. What I can say is this imitation didn’t really allow Date with an Angel to be its own movie with its own identity. Looking back on this film, I’m having difficulty understanding why Ranker would put it on their list of ‘80s teen films. I will admit there are elements in the story that would likely be found in an ‘80s teen movie. A group of goofy, scheming friends and a hilarious misunderstanding are two examples. However, Date with an Angel is not an ‘80s teen film by definition, especially since the characters are adults. Maybe this specific premise, where a human crosses paths with an angel, would have worked better in an ‘80s teen movie. If that were the case, it might have had a better chance of being its own story.

Overall score: 6.4 out of 10

Have you seen any teen movies from the ‘80s? If so, which one is your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Here is the link to the Ranker list I mentioned in this review (Date with an Angel is listed at number 107): https://www.ranker.com/list/best-80s-teen-movies/ranker-film