My current Top 5

My current Top 5

4/18/2011

Number 49: You Can't Take it With You (Best Picture Ranking)

Today, this winner of the Best Picture Oscar is rather forgotten but in 1938, it was popular enough with the Academy to not only win the top prize but also a third Director win for Frank Capra. The movie tells about the eccentric and unusual Sycamore family and their complete opposite, the snobbish and wealthy Kirbys. When Alice and Tony, two young members of these different families, fall in love, things start to get complicated.

You Can’t Take it With You is another one of those typical Capra-comedies. There is a little craziness, a little humor, a little love, a little pathos, a little class differences, a little social messages and the realization that you don’t need money or power to lead a happy, fulfilled life.

The biggest danger that You Can’t Take it With You faced was the central Sycamore family. Every single one of them is presented as eccentric and different as possible. It’s clear that the writing feels very forced in these moments and the script was constantly wondering about how it would be possible to even top those eccentricities with another one. There is the good-hearted and wise Grandpa, the head of the family and maybe, apart from Alice, the most normal member of the family (even though he has some weird ideas about taxes which are also one of the major flaws of the movie since the whole family doesn’t care to pay taxes but they don’t seem to have a problem with living in a country that provides them with everything they need). Then there is the rest of the family: Penny who wants to write a novel and keeps constantly talking and changing the topic at the same time, Essie who dances the whole time, some other relatives who build things in the cellar, a Russian friend who comes around very often and so on (but: the Sycamores are conventional enough to have black servants…). So, all these characters could very easily have become very annoying very soon but miraculously never do. The concept of the Sycamore may become a bit old after a while but all the actors constantly keep up a refreshing and engaging play and that way turn their scenes into very amusing and entertaining moments. On the other side, the characters of the Kirby family may be (apart from Tony) too two-dimensional but Edward Arnold gives a very moving and multi-dimensional performance as the rich man who learns his lessons. In the center of the movie are Jean Arthur and James Stewart who both may be playing the ‘straight’ characters but they actually, too, put a lot of comedy and craziness in their work and that way never get lost in the proceedings – their scene in the restaurant is absolutely delightful.

Like every Frank Capra movie, You Can’t Take it With You is a little too overdone in its message and a little too forced in its attempt to mix social themes with entertainment and the whole solution of the story seems to take a too easy way out. But it was the talent of Frank Capra to always make this work – he has the ability to create movies that could easily be criticized but somehow are simply too pleasing, inspiring, heartwarming but also thought-provoking. His movies always present a combination of themes that shouldn’t work but somehow end up working just right. You Can’t Take it With You is certainly not Capra’s best picture and certainly not his best comedy but it’s refreshing, entertaining and memorable.

3 comments:

Louis Morgan said...

I basically agree with your assessment on this one.

joe burns said...

I've never seen it, in fact, I haven't seen a lot of Best Picture winners.

Derek Bowman said...

I really love this movie. It's so fun, kooky, and surprisingly moving. I enjoy it more than It Happened One Night, even.