Monday, March 20, 2023

Life joy

Another movie that I watched off of the Watch TCM app was the 1938 romantic comedy Joy of Living.

Irene Dunne stars as Maggie Garret, the elder daughter in a family of actors. Mom and Dad (Alice Brady and Guy Kibbee respectively) spent years toiling in vaudeville, while Maggie's kid sister Selina (Lucille Ball) unfortunately doesn't have quite as much talent as Maggie, although the parents would like her to go into showbiz too. Maggie's the one who's successful, having made it into the starring role of a musical. (Irene Dunne being a singer, it's unsurprising the script would give her a bunch of opportunities to sing.)

Maggie is so successful, in fact, that she routinely has throngs of adoring fans waiting for her outside the theater every night. In that crowd is Dan Webster (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. doing is best Melvyn Douglas impersonation), who is frankly forward enough that it frightens Maggie into thinking he might be a stalker, although apparently in the late 1930s they used the word "masher" instead. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here, as there's one other issue. Despite the fact that Maggie is successful, everybody else in the family has been preying upon her success, to the point that her large even for 2023 salary is about to get attached to pay off all the debts that the family has accrued.

And boy are they an annoying family, in the mold of any number of screwball comedies like My Man Godfrey. That obnoxiousness makes Maggie's next actions nearly plausible. Dan keeps showing up and making life a bit of a pain for Maggie, to the point that she finally decides to press charges. She figures that he's going to get a nominal fine and maybe a restraining order. But the judge shows no mercy and gives Dan a six-month sentence, horrifying poor Maggie. She pleads with the judge, who comes up with the only-in-the-movies scheme to have Maggie serve as a sort of probation officer, keeping Dan responsible in exchange for Dan getting a suspended sentence.

It's fairly obvious where the movie is going to go from here, as Dan and Maggie fall in love, and the movie reaches the climax in which Maggie's relationship with Dan is going to come in conflict with the relationship she has with the rest of her family. It's also fairly obvious which relationship she's going to put first in the finale.

And that's the big problem I had with Joy of Living. The cast is all appealing enough and certainly talented, but they're let down by material that's been done too many times. That, and the script felt like it had scenes that went on much too long so there was even less there than the programmer-length running time would have you believe.

Ultimately, Joy of Living isn't a bad movie; it's just that it's well down the list for all the main players as well as being down the list of screwball comedies. There's just so much better out that that you could show to introduce people to any of the stars or genre.

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