Take this George Bailey character, a miserable little clerk with no securities, no stocks, no bonds. A failure.
What’s so wonderful about his life? He’s a starry-eyed dreamer who gives up his travel and career ambitions for the sake of his high ideals, so called, and ends up a warped and frustrated young man playing nursemaid to a bunch of garlic eaters.
You’d have to be a common, ordinary yokel to think that’s wonderful.
Stuck in a measly old town and living in a drafty semi-condemned house, this sucker is taunted by the sounds of train whistles and visits by wealthy friends just passing through.
As if that’s not bad enough, the plot of the story centers around Bailey and his idiot uncle losing a great deal of their business funds, clearly guilty of misappropriation of funds, manipulation, malfeasance.
He can’t even commit suicide successfully, even though he’s worth more dead than alive.
Bailey finally gets his comeuppance when he’s tricked by a delusional, religious nutjob into thinking he was never born. Pigbath!
In that alternative reality we are to believe the town is worse for it. Tommyrot! Sure, sure, the “bad” reality is worse for some, like Bailey’s dead brother and another kid poisoned by a rumhead pharmacist. Worst of all is the fate of his wife who is sentenced to labor, husbandless, in a library!
But for most of the town’s riffraff, their cocktails are happily flowing and girls dancing up a storm to beat the band in the alternative world. Nick the bartender becomes Nick the bar owner. And the true hero of the film is so beloved by the thrifty working class that they rename the town in his honor.
And what of that unsung business champ who saves Bedford Falls during the Depression and has the vision to create more local jobs (when not being thwarted by Bailey’s existence)? I’d much rather watch that superhero’s origin story, confoundit!
The end of the film is no less ridiculous. We are to believe, I suppose, that the local discontented and lazy rabble would somehow organize themselves in an act of collective good instead of running Bailey and his brainless uncle out of town on a rail. Poppycock! That’s less believable than all those angels and wings and bells and prayers going on.
Do I paint a correct picture, or do I exaggerate?
I am only heartened that the saving grace of the picture is, ultimately, money. The other hero of the film — that pioneering plastic entrepreneur Sam Wainwright — who gives the Bailey Boys a cash bailout. Hee Haw, to you, sir.
“I wish I had a million dollars!” Bailey repeats in the film. Indeed. One need search no further for the true meaning of Christmas than, to quote George Bailey’s lament that his “guardian angel” has no money: “It comes in pretty handy down here, bub.”
David G. Allan is CNN’s editorial director of Features overseeing CNN Travel, Style, Space + Science and Wellness. He writes a column for CNN called The Wisdom Project that can be subscribed to here, in which he wrote his own review of the meaning behind this film, ‘It’s a wonderful lesson’