Worst Best Picture: Is You Can’t Take It With You Better or Worse Than Crash?

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Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1938 winner You Can’t Take It With You. Is it better than Crash?

Frank Capra directed two movies that won Best Picture. One of them, It Happened One Night, is one of the greatest love stories ever told. The other one is You Can’t Take It With You, and it’s a goddamned mess.

It’s supposed to be a romantic comedy about how money isn’t everything. The title comes from the idea that it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got because, of course, “you can’t take it with you.” Sure, okay, I get that. It’s all about what you are inside, man. Everybody love everybody.

It is that, but it’s a lot of other things, too. Jimmy Stewart (who is barely in this damn thing) loves a girl from a weird family. His family needs her family to sell their house so his family can expand and keep making sprockets or whatever. It’s very The Lorax. There are no shades of gray. The good guys are wacky and don’t want to sell, the bad guys are stuffy and need them to sell. There’s your Romeo and Juliet love story set up, but it basically doesn’t matter.

It’s almost unbelievable how little of this movie is about the central love story. It’s the driving force for everything, but it fades away as the two patriarchs turn the movie into a spirited debate about if money and status matter or not. The rich guy can’t believe he has to talk to these silly people, which sounds pretty standard for a story like this, but…

I really have to point out how far this movie goes to remind the viewer that the poor family is “strange.” The entire movie rests on the viewer understanding the conflict between greed and contentedness, but it’s absurd how far they go to explain this. At first it all makes sense. The family argues with the IRS over income tax, which is fine. Then they… make unlicensed fireworks and set them off all over their house in the middle of the city. Okay, cool, 1938. Whatever you say. I guess that’s a thing now. Then, a man in a silly mask runs up from the basement to scare the police so they can go back to their xylophone song.

You Can’t Take It With You is off the rails from the very first scene. The absurdity is ticked up to 11 early, so it has nowhere to go to get crazier when it wants to. As a result, nothing ever matters more or less than anything else. People behave like lunatics, it’s really close to Duck Soup levels of silliness. The plot is fine and a few of the performances are well done, but this is a really silly movie, even beyond the parts that need to be silly to drive the plot.

The Best Part: The IRS scene is pretty great. A straight-laced IRS agent yells at a family playing the xylophone about income tax for five minutes. It feels like a Mr. Show sketch.

The Worst Part: The craziness is too crazy in general, but when a cop tells an old man “you’re playing Boogeyman, eh?” because he has a silly mask on for no reason, you start to wonder how this whole damn thing was allowed to happen. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s out of control.

Is It Better or Worse than CrashBoth movies have big “lessons.” You Can’t Take It With You has a big courtroom scene to explain itself. Crash has a car crash. Neither movie is really very good at getting below the surface (racism bad, money bad, got it) but You Can’t Take It With You is really trying. I don’t think you can fix Crash, but you could fix You Can’t Take It With You with more love story and less… xylophone.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement |12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind| Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth |

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Image: Screen Insults

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