More than just a charming holiday classic, It's A Wonderful Life teaches one of the most valuable lessons of life in a distinct, warm way, making it likable for everyone. There's enough feel-good moments to satisfy the casual moviegoer and enough dark moments of realism to satisfy the analytical critic. Perfectly-done performances and solid direction make the film as truly wonderful and effective as it wants to be.
PLOT: George Bailey (James Stewart) has had a major impact in his friend's and family's lives though he doesn't realize it. From saving his little brother's life and a drugstore manager's job to managing the money and housing of several locals including his family, George has left a major impact on the town in which he lives. In fact, his family business, the Bailey Building and Loan is the only one with enough honor to run independently from greedy businessman, Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). However, George has a a bad day on Christmas Eve when his Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses his business' money for the bank examiner and gets the business in trouble with the law. George, after lashing out on his family and getting in a fight at the bar, debates throwing himself off a bridge, prompting his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), to travel to Earth to save him. After the two begin talking, George says he wishes he would've never been born, which Clarence makes a reality to prove to George that he's had a major impact on his society. Now, George must navigate this alternate world and realize his worth under the guidance of his angel, Clarence, yearning to earn his wings through this task. The plot is very well done with just enough charm and with to balance out. There's an ample balance of everything in this film. There's enough moments of uplifting Christmas charm to match the moments of serious reality when George debates his existence. The film proves to be just as much a holiday film as a basic fundamental lesson for a good life.
ACTING: The performances in this film are very excellent for their time. James Stewart steals the show as the main character, George Bailey. Stewart plays the role as natural as if he were living it, making it as iconic as it is fitting. Other great performances came from Lionel Barrymore as greedy Mr. Potter, Thomas Mitchell as forgetful Uncle Billy, Henry Travers as Clarence the angel, and especially Donna Reed as George's wife, Mary. The two had a very visible chemistry in the film, setting the standard for cinematic romance with memorable dialogue and charm, as well.
SCORE: The memorable score done by obscure, foreign composer Dimitri Tiomkin, is quite warm and elegant, like that of most cinema in its time. However, the film does bear a fairly memorable end scene with a simple rendition of "Auld Lang Syne".
OTHER CONTENT: During this time, this film was probably peaceful message to everyone, giving off the Christmas spirit most had yearned for. It's A Wonderful Life is just what it wishes to be: wonderful. Even though it gets dark at times, it finishes with a feel-good feeling outdoing any other Christmas film to come. The film is its own Christmas Carol, molding the dark to make the light, which is what the holiday feeling is anyhow: being light in times of dark.
It's A Wonderful Life is a must-see holiday film for audiences of all ages. There's enough Christmas charm for the sentimentalists, enough dark seriousness for the more critical, and enough meaning for the skeptics. The film presents a perfect balance of all cinematic elements, letting it become just as effective a stand-alone film as a Christmas film, which is what is truly wonderful in the end.