You Can’t Take It with You (1938)

It’s August, which means it’s time for another theme month.  This time, I’m going to look at mental health through the decades.  I work in the mental health field – tangentially, at least – so I feel like I know just enough to make random declarations about the subject, though not necessarily enough to discuss real issues.

I’ll also mention here that I actually watched this movie months ago, and wrote this post back then with the intention of pairing it with something else that never panned out.  I do, however, think it’s worthwhile including it here because most people would consider that a group of people who are not all related living together in a house, not making any money, doing whatever random creative thing comes to mind to be crazy.  There.  I said it.

Ah, the screwball comedy.  They don’t make ‘em like they used to.  Actually, I’m not sure they make movies like this at all anymore.  Comedies?  Sure.  Romantic comedies?  Obvs.  Eccentric characters?  Well, yes.  Zany, seemingly unrelated plot points that somehow all fit together at the end?  All right, all right.  Even still, today’s comedies don’t seem remotely similar to the screwball comedies of the past (based on my limited experience).

Maybe it’s just a generational thing.  I can’t help but note that this movie came out in the midst of the Great Depression.  The plot is simple yet complicated – two people fall in love and try to reconcile their wildly different families, one made of wealthy business owners always after a deal, and the other a group of eccentrics who’ve decided to focus on their own artistic passions.  The winning message is to follow your heart instead of a dollar sign.  Easy for you to say, Grandpa.  I got rent to pay.  And student loans.

I’ve come to realize that I resist stories like this, that seem realistic on the surface but also feature characters like Mr. Poppins (which, first of all, nobody’s actually named Mr. Poppins), who abandons his job on a whim to carry out his lifelong dream of making stuffed rabbits.  Or the stately Russian ballet instructor who hangs out with all the other weird people who in turn are hanging out doing random things and somehow also make enough money to live off of.  I prefer my realism to be genuinely realistic and fully separated from my fantasy stories about time travel and magic and mutated amphibians trained in martial arts.  What good is entertainment, after all, if it can’t be neatly categorized and either exactly like life or nothing like it?

I wish YCTIWY offered more of a middle ground – their solution seems to be that you can only be happy if you reject the trappings of finance and indulge in a life of whimsical pursuits.  Art is a great, important thing, but we also need some structure.  Grandpa wonders what paying income tax does for him (not as footloose and ignorant of money as he thinks, then, eh?) while promoting the neighborhood community spirit.  And somehow, he owns a house in an extremely popular location without much explanation as to how it fell into his unemployed hands.

I remember reading the play on which this film is based back in high school, maybe 9th or 10th grade English.  I don’t recall the specifics of it – though the most important bit is pretty much in the title.  But it does bring back my sense of frustration at our exposure to theater in school.  This was one of the most modern plays we read, except perhaps The Glass Menagerie.  Most of my memories of those plays were sheer confusion.  There were references to contemporary things that I didn’t understand (who the hell were Porgy and Bess, and how is it pronounced? one might wonder when asked to read such a thing aloud).  Somehow, I got it into my head that drama ceased to exist after 1950.  Theater felt like some relic from the past that nobody did anymore.

I hope that’s not the case for kids learning about drama today.  If the only choices are Shakespeare or Kaufman and Hart, no wonder young people find it hard to relate to theater.  Which is not to say that there’s anything wrong with them, but it’d be nice to see something a little more approachable.  The kids these days should be watching HamiltonI should be watching Hamilton.


Theme:  Mental Health

Diagnosis:  Zaniness?

First Time Watching?  Maybe, but not first time reading the play.

Final Verdict:  Life is running around inside of me like a squirrel.


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