11. You Can’t Take It With You (1939)

Title: You Can’t Take It With You

Release Date: 29 September, 1938

Oscar Ceremony: 23 February, 1939

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: Jean Arthur, James Stewart & Lionel Barrymore

Frank Capra does it again! For those of you who cannot remember, Capra was the director of the acclaimed rom-com that won Best Picture in 1935, It Happened One Night. When I saw that he was the director for You Can’t Take It With You, I had high hopes. They weren’t met at 100%, but the movie was definitely enjoyable to watch. It has quite a whimsical aspect to it and whether you like it or not, it puts a smile on your face.

I guess that so far in my Oscar project, I’m turning out to be more of a comedy girl than I had initially thought. There’s something timeless about comedy… it never feels slow, no matter the context, and after watching lengthy biopics, a comedy like this one is a breath of fresh air. You Can’t Take It With You is actually based on a play, so it doesn’t require a lot of complex sets. For the most part, the humour is mostly silly and largely based on practical jokes and absurdity, so if that’s not your style you might get annoyed. However, what I find really interesting is the fact that, at its core, the movie touches upon some serious matters, such as family values, status, outlook on life, acceptance, difference… Take all that, mix it up with some comedic bits, and you’ve got yourself quite a tasty treat.

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The story starts with a rich businessman, Anthony B. Kirby, who plans to buy every property within a 12 block radius of his competitor’s factory in order to put him out of business. His plan is almost complete, with the exception of one residential house whose owner refuses to sell. He’s going to have to go to great lengths to get the owner to give in. Meanwhile, Kirby’s son Tony (who happens to be the vice president of the family company), falls in love with his secretary, Alice Sycamore, and decides to propose to her. While I think they’re really cute together, Kirby’s mother doesn’t seem to agree. Moreover, Alice is worried that her family won’t be good enough for the Kirbys… she comes from a very eccentric family, the type that you would be embarrassed of when your friends came over. As it turns out, aside from being weird and crazy, Alice’s family also happens to live in that last house that Mr.Kirby has left to purchase in order to complete his plan. This is going to be interesting.

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The viewers’ introduction to the Sycamore household is one of my favourite parts of the movie. Grandpa Vanderhof, the owner and patriarch of the home, convinces a modest worker, Mr. Poppins, to quit his job during the depression and come do what he really loves in the Sycamore house. Poppins is easily persuaded and decides to come home with Vanderhof, which is when the viewers are finally introduced to the Sycamores. Picture a family where every member is encouraged to pursue his or her wildest hobbies without any regards to what others might think. This is exactly what the Sycamores do. Alice is the only one who is seemingly “normal.” Her sister, Essie, is a candy maker who aspires to be a dancer, even if she is horrible at it. Her xylophone-playing husband Ed also lives with the family and helps Essie write labels for her candy. The es1e9mother, Penny, writes erotic plays on a typewriter and uses a live kitten as a paperweight (which, by the way, is the best part of the whole movie). She also paints in her spare time. The father, Paul, manufactures fireworks in the basement and frequently tests them with the help of the family’s ex-ice-delivery man Mr. DePinna, who has been wooed to join this creative lifestyle. There’s also a family maid named Rheba, who has decided to bring her boyfriend Donald to live in the home as well. Mr. Poppins and his confection of various shenanigans he calls “things” fits right in. Everyone is just so happy-go-lucky, it’s contagious.

For a long time I kept wondering how all these people managed to live comfortably considering their bizarre occupations. This is explained when later in the film, a man pays Grandpa Vanderhof a visit to inquire as to why he hasn’t paid any income tax in a while. BUSTED. Grandpa simply responds by telling the guy that he doesn’t believe in it. Why can’t I use that excuse? A philosophical discussion ensues and the man eventually leaves. I wonder how long that’s going to last.

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Anyways, as you might assume, the two lovebirds’ families eventually meet, and naturally, things do not go smoothly. They go as far as ending up in court. Lucky for me, who had to endure the slowest court scenes ever in The Life of Emile Zola, this one was quite entertaining. We reach a point where we’re no longer sure if Alice and Tony will manage to overcome their families’ differences… but we quickly get over our doubts when we realize we’re watching a romantic comedy that would be pretty crappy if the main love interests did not end up together. Spoiler alert.

Overall, if you love your family but are also terrified of being seen with them, watch this movie. If you come from a rich and snobby family who lives in a bubble of money, watch this movie. It’s a bundle of fun and teaches all of us to be a bit more open in life.

 

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