Either way, George’s wanting a better life doesn’t sit well with Mary, so she makes a wish on the haunted house that his dreams will all fall apart at the seams.
Then comes another well-known moment where George offers to lasso the moon for Mary. A lot of people consider this part to be romantic, when it’s actually just disturbing.
George: Hey, that’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.
Mary: I’ll take it! Then what?
George: Well, then you could swallow it. And it’d all dissolve, see? And the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes, and the ends of your hair... Am I talking too much?
Holy crap. I can safely say I’ve never been that high in my life, and I would not be lying to you. Though I certainly have tried.
Somehow, Mary ends up naked in the bushes. But since nothing in George’s life can ever be this good for long, that’s when his dad decides to drop dead of a stroke. A nice, light Christmas movie, everybody!
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Afterwards, Mr. Potter, who somehow hasn’t aged in the last 15 years, tries for a hostile takeover of the Bailey Building and Loan, but George stops him with some bona fide true-blue speechifying.
Naturally, this leads to him getting screwed over yet again, as he’s called upon to take his father’s place and run the business.
George: Now let’s get this thing straight. I’m leaving! I’m leaving right now! I’m going to school, this is my last chance! Uncle Billy here, he’s your man!
Board Member: But George, they’ll vote with Potter otherwise!
George, stop right there. You owe these people nothing. If they’re not capable of surviving without you, nature has chosen them to be culled from the herd so that you can thrive. You can’t fight natural selection!
Also... why is there a raven on the desk? The Baileys seem like nice people, but I think I’ll invest my money in a place with a few less Edgar Allan Poe-style portents of doom, thank you very much.
George of course gives into the sniveling bastards and sends his brother off to college in his place, only for the ingrate to return with a new wife and a shot at a much better job.
Yes, not only has Harry gotten married without telling anyone, but apparently the old lady is already busy plotting out the rest of his career.
Ruth: My father owns a glass factory in Buffalo!
Wow. Talk about a sweet gig.
And by the way, we’re still watching flashbacks! For the amount of actual plot we get, the setup should have only taken twenty minutes, tops. If you need more than seventy pages just to bring the audience up to speed, that’s a sign your script needs a rewrite.
Yadda yadda, George and Mary get married, but George forestalls their honeymoon because... well, actually I’m not really sure why. There’s supposedly a run on the bank, but nothing’s ever really made of this, except that Mary gives away their honeymoon money for no goddamned reason!
It’s official: Mary is the real villain of this movie.
No, really. Follow me here.
Absolutely everything bad that happens to George benefits her directly. His father dies, he has to stay in Bedford Falls and be near her. His brother opts out of the family business, he ends up marrying her. His bank almost fails and he has to give up their honeymoon, and she just gains more and more control over his life, until he’s reduced to doing nothing but pumping her full of babies and growing to hate himself.
To top it all off, World War II breaks out, and George can’t enlist because of his bad ear. Yes, even George losing his hearing as a little kid eventually comes around to benefit Mary.
During the war, everyone becomes a hero and a go-zillionaire except George. His brother Harry even gets the Medal of Honor for... killing Hitler or something.
And that’s when George’s Uncle Billy, who’s clearly not cut out for any sort of job in the financial services industry, misplaces an envelope full of cash, which ends up in Potter’s hands.
This leads to my favorite part of the movie. No, not the part where George finally unloads on Uncle Billy, though that is pretty sweet. No, I’m talking about what happens immediately after.
Yes. I’m talking about the random fucking squirrel that climbs on Uncle Billy.
Dear Santa, I just wanted to thank you for the random fucking squirrel during that one scene in It’s a Wonderful Life. It really made my Christmas. Love, Mendo. PS: Next year, please make sure that evil bitch Mary Bailey rots in hell.
So, Potter tries to have George arrested for embezzlement, blah blah blah, and finally, we get to the only part of this movie that anyone talks about. The part that actually involves Christmas. And it only took, drum roll please...
An hour and sixteen minutes.
That’s right, it’s a two hour Christmas movie featuring nearly an hour and a half with no Christmas at all. Lethal Weapon has more to do with Christmas than this movie.
You all know the rest of the story. George yells at his family, tries to mind-meld with his daughter...
“My mind to Zuzu’s mind... my thoughts to Zuzu’s thoughts...”
...and then has an epic freak-out.
Then he gets drunk, pulls a Tiger Woods and rams his car into a tree, and eventually plans to throw himself off a bridge to cash in on his life insurance policy. And that’s when he’s saved by his guardian angel Clarence.
I really don’t have too much of a problem with the second half of the film. For one thing, George finally lashes out at Mary for ruining his life, which I for one found very satisfying.
Also, the second half is where the actual story kicks in, and we stop getting flashbacks. And now we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the flashbacks are pointless, because you can completely miss the first half of the movie and still follow everything. And throwing in a godlike character in the third act is pretty much the definition of a deus ex machina.
Regardless, we get to the most famous part of the movie, where George wishes he was never born.
Clarence fixes it so that George sees what Bedford Falls would have been like if he never existed. Pawn brokers! Porno shops! Cocktail lounges! Um... actually, am I the only one who thinks “Pottersville” looks a hell of a lot more fun than Bedford Falls?
George finds out his brother died as a kid because George wasn’t there to save him, and Old Man Gower accidentally poisoned that kid because George wasn’t there to stop him, and Potter took over the town, and Hitler won the war, and so on, and so forth.
You see, one man’s life touches the lives of so many others, especially when that man happens to own the most important business in town, and happens to have saved a couple of people’s lives when he was a kid, including a Congressional Medal of Honor winner.
So, basically, one guy was all that was stopping Bedford Falls from turning into a hellhole. I think that’s ample evidence George should’ve gotten out when he had the chance.
I mean, come on. If the general populace is too weak-willed not to turn into East St. Louis, why would you want to save them? At what point does personal responsibility kick in? There was no reason whatsoever for George to throw away his life and happiness for these losers.
After seeing that Violet is now basically a prostitute, and Mary is now a sexy spinster, and Bert the Cop is now the single most trigger happy officer on the force, George immediately regrets making that wish.
Ugh, glasses? No wonder she’s an old maid.
George returns to the bridge and shouts, “I want to live again! I want to live again!” And then Jimmy Stewart loses his goddamn mind and screams, “My mout’s bleedin’!” roughly 50 times.
Personally, I think Bert is well within his rights to use the tazer. Obviously, the guy is mad tweaking.
George then runs through the newly restored Bedford Falls, euphoric that everything is exactly as boring as it was before. He screams “Merry Christmas!” at every inanimate object he sees.
Seriously, what is he so happy about? Why does he care that the town is no longer Potter’s slum? What did any of these people ever do for him?
Oh right, after basically leeching off George for years, the whole town rallies around him in the final moments and donates money to make up for the lost deposit.
Okay, but first of all, Mr. Potter, one of the Scrooge-iest Scrooges in movie history, never gets any sort of comeuppance whatsoever (at least, not until that SNL skit). Secondly, I’m pretty sure the bank examiner still wants to know what happened to that missing money. Best case scenario is George going away to prison for a really long time.
And somehow, Uncle Billy walks away from all this scot-free. Even though I’d sooner trust my life savings to Bernie Madoff.
To round it all off, Clarence earns his wings for more or less just snapping his fingers. So there’s another person getting ahead in the world by basically making George miserable.
You know what? Fuck George Bailey. I know we’re supposed to admire people who put the wellbeing of others above their own, but come on. If you’re so determined to help others that you turn your own life into a total clusterfuck, you deserve no sympathy from anyone.
And now you know why I can’t stand It’s a Wonderful Life. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading up to Pottersville to get shitfaced. Merry Christmas, old Agony Booth!