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Over the last few years, I have been privileged to watch the professional growth of Atlanta's preeminent film reviewer. I have watched his ideas hatch from simple scrawlings on random pieces of paper and grow into first a free Homestead site, and eventually into the pinnacle of professionalism that you are all now enjoying. Despite the fact that I was handicapped by working for another, rival video store, Noel and company welcomed my input as we cruelly and shamelessly made fun of customers. Was it all an act? Do they truly value my insights into the world of motion pictures?
Today, dear readers, those fears have been laid to rest. I have been asked by our webmaster (he of the Johnny Bravo hair) to review perhaps the most renowned and beloved of all Christmas films: Frank Capra's 1989 classic IT'S A BUNDYFUL LIFE.
George Bailey is a hard working man, trying to provide for his family during tough times. In his desperate drive to continually earn their love and respect, he spends his days working in a profession that lacks glamour. He craves the acceptance, love and respect of his family: wife Peg, and beautiful children Kelly and Bud. The sacrifices that he makes daily are evident in the first words that we hear him speak in the film:
I hate Christmas. Mall is full of nothin' but women and children. All you can hear is, "I want this! Get me this! I've got to have this!" And then there's the children! And they're all by my store 'cause they stuck the mall Santa right outside, ringin' his stupid bell. As if you need a bell to notice a three hundred pound alcoholic in a red suit. Ho! Ho! Ho! all day long. So, nice as can be, I go outside and ask him to shut the hell up. He takes a swing at me! So I lay a right hook into his fat belly and he goes down. Beard comes off, all the kids start crying, and I'm the bad guy!
George's family fears that this will be another lean year: a year of toaster shakins for dinner, Sterno for eggnog and no presents under a tree that isn't there. Their bleak Christmas wishes are laid out before us in a moving and ageless holiday tune:
This year, though, George has planned ahead. He has made ever more sacrifices in order to save money to buy presents for his loving family this Christmas. On December 24th, he hastens to the bank to collect his hard-earned savings in order to shop for his family. Fate has other plans, though, and the greed of others stands in his path. The bank has closed early. Employees are happily throwing around the money of their depositors. Evil bank magnate Marcy D. Potter callously ignores the pleas of George as she drinks sinful amounts of eggnog and Xeroxes her ass.
Faced with the certainty of disappointing his family on Christmas, George Bailey crumples in a pile of demolished dreams. His fears are confirmed upon his return home as his family turns on him. His daughter's scorn cuts him to the bone:
We kissed your ring and called you Daddy. A real daddy would have held up a liquor store.
Knowing the truth within the barbed rebuke, George watches as his family goes to the annual Christmas dinner at Denny's without him. His family has left him. His job is a dead-end tunnel. His Christmas lights don't work. The heaviest sadness descends upon dear George, and he begins to entertain the most dangerous thoughts. "Sometimes I think it might be better if I was never born. . . "
Pack ice or snow into sugar cone, oil funnel or tightly-rolled newspaper. Ladle flavoring over ice or snow. Enjoy!
As George ponders the unthinkable, a man appears at his side. He is dressed in a peculiar fashion, wearing a trenchcoat and beret at a rakish angle. He tells George that he is George's guardian angel (played by the late master thespian, singer and composer Samuel Kinison) and that he is there to help George out. He takes George to another time and place, one in which George Bailey was never born.
Upon entering his home, George sees his wife cooking. He calls out to her, but is informed by his angel:
She doesn't know you're there...just like when you're having sex!
The horrid alternative is revealed, bit by bit. His loving wife Peg more closely resembles Donna Reed than her former self. His son Budrick is a gentleman and a scholar who loves his family and strives to uphold the code of chivalry. His daughter, Kelly, has returned home from college. Thus far, she has foregone temptations of the flesh in favor of learning. Peg has married a man named Norman Jablonski (ably portrayed by Ted McGinley) who provides amply for his family and loves them with all his heart.
What is this endeavor supposed to prove to our hero? George turns on his guardian angel and cries out in rage and desperation,
Oh, gee this was fun! What do we do next, go back in time to the night I was conceived and watch my father invent the condom?
The angel dejectedly lets George know that his goal was to drive George to desire his family again, to want to spend the rest of his life with them. The angel is on probationary status, and without George's cooperation, he won't get his wings. Our protagonist looks at the tableau laid out before him. He sees the happiness in the faces of his family and the crushed spirit of his own guardian angel. Can he leave behind the life he has known? Can he put the happiness of his family before his own? We see resolve puff up his chest as our protagonist loudly declares:
Wait a second! I want to be back with my family! Look at them - they're happy. Not a care in the world. You think I'm gonna let that happen, after all the grief they put me through? I WANT TO LIVE!
George's angel gets his wings, and has dibs on the Hee-Haw girls when they die. George has his family again, whether they want him or not. George's family has no presents for Christmas, but they've learned where not to place their hope. Don't pin your hopes and dreams on a grown man who sells shoes.
This film is one of the most moving and poignant works of the age of motion pictures. It touches on all that rings true during the holiday season: unbridled greed, shattered expectations and hope that is carefully dashed against the rocks of reality. The characters move us and the dialogue resounds with realism. All in all, a more appropriate holiday film has never been made. Watch it with the trusting hope of a child, and feel the message that it conveys.
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