May 15, 2014

You Can't Take it With You

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Frank Capra had such a knack for making feel-good movies. I haven't yet come across a film of his that I've flat out disliked, because even if I'm not so enthused by one of his pictures, there's always the signature Capra charm in his storytelling that makes sitting through it bearable at the very least. You Can't Take it With You isn't just a snapshot of life in 1938--you could very well make a present day adaptation of this movie and much of the story would still translate with the same relevance to modern times. And yet despite the film's timeless themes of money and power, class differences, family, and romance, it doesn't feel very timeless as an entire piece itself. For starters, the movie sort of looks like a filmed play, and even under Capra's direction there isn't much to the film that reads as highly cinematic. From a narrative standpoint, I was pretty bored for much of the first half--there's a lot of unexciting dialogue spoken and some scenes drag on for longer than I'd like. And while the second half is much more watchable, the film makes a mad-dash towards the finish line by the end and ties up some plot points rather clumsily.

What I loved most about films like Lady for a Day and It Happened One Night was that it was just Capra tackling a silly story and having fun with it, and like osmosis that fun is felt and absorbed by the viewer. My problem with Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and You Can't Take it With You is that these are films trying to shove messages down our throats--that money isn't a big deal and that living a humble life ain't so bad. These messages loom over You Can't Take it With You pretty harshly, and in turn I wasn't getting effortless storytelling or entertainment...I just felt like I was being preached to. Further, it's a much too idealistic message that I couldn't quite agree with. It's still an endearing little movie with solid efforts from its cast. Its topics surely appealed to Depression-era audiences and it helped that Capra was an Academy darling at the time. However there's not many thrills that come with family-ensemble pictures, and I was left craving a more invigorating viewing experience. You Can't Take it With You is a satisfactory enough picture, but it's simple in its design and nothing about it really screams best of its year.


  1. I don't remember a lot from it, expect it was a nice feel-good movie. Which I guess is also your point. Except I think I was a bit more generous.
    It might just fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to Best Picture winners.

    1. That's sort of my problem with it--very middle of the road, not particularly bad yet it doesn't really have anything that makes it particularly special either.

  2. I remember being really charmed by this one, as a very early thirties movie and my first experience with Jimmy Stewart & Jean Arthur. It's been a long long long time, and I've seen some more renowned classics, so who knows what I'd think now.

    How was Spring Byington? I can't even picture what she looks like, so she made no impact on me lol.

    1. Spring Byington is...adequate. lol. I'm not really sure how else to describe her. She doesn't get that much screentime but she's decent enough at what she's required to do, though I wouldn't have given her a nomination. It was one of those situations where I just finished YCTIWY, hopped on the 'net to read up on the movie, found out it got a supporting actress nom, and was like, "Huh? Who? Her? Why?" Quite a few nommed supporting performances I've seen from this era have gotten that reaction out of me, idk wtf Oscar's deal was.

  3. This movie seems like a filmed play because it is one, a big hit on Broadway in the 1930s. Unfortunately, it now creaks with the cobwebs. Whatever fire that may have ignited it onstage just isn't onscreen and none of the performances are anywhere near the best that these actors would achieve. I had the same response to Byington's nomination but the academy often randomly nominates a supporting performance simply because the pic gets a nod. What's more surprising is that, with all of the renowned films Capra directed, this forgotten film is one of only two to win best picture. "Mr. Deeds", "Lost Horizon", Mr. Smith", "Meet John Doe" and "It's a Wonderful Life" are vastly superior to YCTIWY but Capra was president of the Academy at this time and he would earn two of his three director Oscars during his time in office, a time in which several academy branches unionized and might have quit without Capra interceding.

    YCTIWY is decidedly uncinematic, even as filmed plays go, and while Capra was never the most cinematic of directors (he was better with actors) he simply does not rid this of its stage bound origins. Only "Cimarron" and "Cavalcade" are more forgotten best picture winners from the '30s than YCTIWY. There's a reason for that.