YMMV / It's a Wonderful Life

  • Adaptation Displacement and Adaptation Expansion: Of a short story called "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Is George really a saint like figure who sacrifices his hopes and dreams for the good of others, or is he just an extreme doormat who lacks the spine to stick up for himself and only gives because it's expected of him.
    • George brings his problems on himself by running an overleveraged, illiquid bank and letting his alcoholic uncle handle business.
    • Pottersville looks like a fun town... well, unless you're one of the poor working class whose livelihoods are destroyed.
    • Capra himself said he made the film in large part to "combat a modern trend towards atheism". Little wonder that its protagonist is a Christ figure in all but name.
    • The Agony Booth interpreted Mary as being the true villain of the film, because it's implied her broken-window-wish to marry George is what caused him to suffer tragedy after tragedy that kept him from leaving Bedford Falls. (It's doubtful she knew it would happen that way, though.)
  • Big Lipped Alligator Moment: Mary losing her bathrobe and having to hide naked inside a bush. George even lampshades it. "This is a very interesting situation!"
  • Family-Unfriendly Aesop
    • If you're non-white, non-protestant, live in the big city instead of a small town, and are even slightly multi-cultural, you're a bad person.
    • If you're a woman and don't marry your designated soulmate, you'll spend your life as an miserable spinster.
    • Your hopes, dreams, and how you want your life to turn out are ultimately irrelevant. And if God decides that your purpose is to suffer so others don't have to, you'd better learn to accept it since you have no real say in the matter.
  • Glurge:
    • It tugs on the heartstrings so hard, a reviewer coined the term "Capra Corn" to refer to it. Afterwards, Frank Capra himself started using the phrase to describe his well-known sentimental film style. Some background on it all here.
    • The Glurge aspects were lampshaded in the first Batman: The Animated Series Christmas special, "Christmas with the Joker"—it was the reason why Bruce was initially unwilling to let Dick show him the movie. Dick points out that it's about how one man can make a difference, alluding to Batman's role in Gotham City.
    • The sugary aspects of it are also fairly heavily cut down by the actual movie, which is substantially different from its reputation as a slice of cheese. The sex jokes and snarkiness can surprise first-time viewers expecting nothing but the ending. And if they weren't expecting the ending, then the last quarter of the film can feel like a sudden shift to the Twilight Zone.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: The banks today are basically run by Potters, and the way they were run caused much of the late 2000s recession.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Mary's sarcastic line to her mother that George is "making violent love to me, mother" is an example of Having a Gay Old Time. Mary's merely saying George is giving her an overemotional courtship (when it's her that's doing the courting). With the modern meaning of the term, the joke becomes even funnier and now comes across as Refuge in Audacity.
  • Inferred Holocaust / Strawman Has a Point:
    • Pottersville has more excitement and a superior economic infrastructure, but under the glamor many people live on the streets (and many of the ladies are hookers instead of homemakers). Bedford Falls only has a moderate manufacturing economy and no obvious places to find excitement, though the honesty and unity between the B&L and small business owners allows them to overcome most financial problems. Once the factory closes down, Bedford Falls will suffer depression and unemployment. In the end, a place like Bedford Falls has a better chance of bouncing back from a bad economy because of the mutual cooperation between the banks and small businesses. And, if you pay attention, that's actually exactly what happens: George suggests to a plastics magnate that he convert a closed tool-and-die factory and employ the locals. It's a minor throwaway line in the middle of a scene with much more important things going on, emotionally speaking, but it's there.
    • George makes it clear that he wants to leave Bedford Falls, go to college, and travel the world. All of his dreams are destroyed and he must commit suicide to regain hope and perspective. Potter was partially correct that George’s life has not resulted in personal happiness.
  • Iron Woobie: George, George, George. He essentially gave up his life for the people of Bedford Falls, though he cracks when he has to either put his dreams on hold or abandon them entirely. You can't help but feel sorry for him throughout the scene where he's angry after Uncle Billy loses the money, and then during the whole of the Pottersville sequence.
  • It Was His Sled: George Bailey gets sent to an Alternate Future where he was never born.
  • Jerkass Woobie:
    • As a result of losing his son, Mr. Gower is a grumpy old man who is driven to drink and would have fatally poisoned a child if not for George's intervention; seeing his reaction to learning what he did and his fate in the alternate future is heartbreaking. Thankfully he gets better in the main timeline, his brief appearance showing that he has come back from despair, shaped back up and become a very good friend to George.
    • George himself veers into this from time to time. He can become abrasive, but as this usually comes after he has to abandon or put his dreams on hold, you still feel bad for him. He always comes back from it however, see Iron Woobie above.
  • Misaimed Fandom:
    • In recent years, Mr. Potter has started to get a number of fans who see him as a representation of a good capitalist businessman. This requires ignoring his criminal action later in the film, his cruelty mixed with his business tactics, and his cold disregard for anyone else at all.
      • Though on the other hand, he is far more financially successful than George so he must be doing something right.
    • Pottersville itself has a few people who think that it actually looks like a fun place to live - and that the various nightclubs and strip clubs would boost the town's economy. This is ignoring the fact that it's clearly a Crapsack World where everyone is a complete asshole, or the very least utterly miserable, and there are so many nightclubs and strip clubs because people are desperate and unhappy, drowning their sorrows in alcohol, and buying just a few minutes of the pretense of human connection in the clubs (or with the hookers).
      • Likewise the idea that nightclubs and entertainment industries boost the town's economy is pure Bread and Circuses logic and gentrification and a case of Artistic License – Economics.
      • It's actually pretty justified if one looks into both the director's intention and the subtext of the film, the former being an attempt to browbeat the audience into accepting his personal religious stance and the latter being a glorification of 1950's baby boomer social elitism.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Mr. Potter is a hateful and greedy man throughout the whole movie, but what he does to George near the end is where he crossed the line and became immortalized as one of the most memorable and hateful villains in cinema.
    Mr. Potter Why, George ... you're worth more dead than alive.
  • Narm: Clarence's "She became an old maid" due to Values Dissonance can become this. Especially given the rest of Pottersville. Given it comes after the increasingly intense revelations about his uncle, his brother, etc. it can feel like Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking.
  • Narm Charm: George's unadultarated joy and relief when he realizes he's alive again. The endless shrieks of "Merry Christmas!!!" to every person and every building he meets should be Ham and Cheese at best, and Narm at worst. But in this movie, it's a cue for the Manly Tears of a man who went through emotional hell that almost drove him to suicide and just experienced a disturbing divine vision to give his life a powerful new perspective.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: George’s speech against Mr. Potter’s ruthless policies and in defence of Ernie and Potter’s other employees.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: A few viewers find it difficult to sympathize with George because they feel he brings his problems on himself by choosing to run a unsuccessful business even though he's given many opportunities to do something else. For example, Harry was perfectly willing to take over the Building & Loan after he came back from college, but George refused to let him and insisted he take the job his father-in-law offered.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • In Pottersville, Mary is a single woman who works at the library. It is evidently supposed to be a horrible fate that she couldn't become George's wife and instead is an old maid. George's more personal horror that the love of his life never knew him and his children were never born, though, is still timeless.
    • Major Values Dissonance with Mr. Gower and young George. First, would George at that age be legally old enough to hold a paying job nowadays? Second, when Mr. Gower slaps George, drawing blood from his bad ear.... in modern times, that would be a lawsuit, and probably a jail sentence.
    • The idealistic portrayal of the Building & Loan comes across as very naïve after the savings & loan industry's huge meltdown in the 1980s and 90s.

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