Study Guide

It's a Wonderful Life Genre

Genre

Feel-Good Movie, Comedy, Christmas Movie

For a movie about suicidal despair, It's a Wonderful Life has to be the greatest feel-good movie of all time. It has a positive and redeeming message about the importance of individuals, the joys and benefits of friendship, and the family ties that sustain us.

But, in order to get there, it has to deal with some pretty dark moments. As one critic wrote, "It's a Wonderful Life proves we need the darkness to see the light; the lows to feel the highs; the despair to feel the inspiration. Capra needs to beat up George Bailey for two hours before he can save him." (Source)

The movie is also a comedy because … it's funny. And, it has a happy ending, which is all that's required in the original meaning of "comedy." Part of the brilliance of this movie is that it's a film about hopelessness and desperation that maintains a comic tone. George and Mary's initial courtship has lots of jokes—like when Mary ducks into a bush and accidentally loses her bathrobe, prompting George to hesitate before giving her bathrobe back. He muses, "I could sell tickets. …"

Finally, it's quite obviously a Christmas movie, though Capra claims that wasn't his intent. The plot sure reminds everyone of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, with those ghosts of Christmas past and future. The critical events of the film take place on Christmas Eve, and what better Christmas present is there than discovering that your life has meaning? It's become an all-time Christmas classic. Even characters in other films watch it: check out Home Alone and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

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