Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937)

Putting aside the “Ozu with white people” analogy, one I thought would be a clever four-word review but then saw in just about every review I read, this was making every attempt to be, and in a number of instances was, the most depressing movie I’ve ever seen, and therefore, I couldn’t stop laughing. I mean, scenes like the one where Lucy talks to Barkley on the phone like it’s the last time they’ll ever speak, while all the bridge players can hear her, was one of the most awkward situations I’ve ever seen in a movie, and indeed one of the most depressing…and yes, I couldn’t stop laughing. Same as when Lucy tells her son that he’s always been her favorite – I BURST out laughing, it was such a deliberately meant-to-be-sad-and-depressing moment, and yet, it’s still sad as all hell, I gotta admit. Maybe it’s because McCarey just poured it on so that any intention to make it that depressing are dashed via unintentional parody, maybe because it was so genuinely depressing that I laughed so that I didn’t have to cry, or maybe it was both. So much of this movie straddles that fine line between genuine sadness and overdone parody, when you look at the wooden performances of the children and grandchildren, and the overly-enfeebled Lucy and Barkley (unbeknownst to me while watching the film, Beulah Bondi wasn’t even 50 when she played the 70+ year old Lucy, which by itself gives me a new appreciation for the maybe-overdone yet incredibly convincing old-person performance), but it’s still solid enough. But then, the final section of the film in the hotel, and then the cab ride afterwards, is just so unfathomably beautiful and utterly flawless filmmaking (Lucy giggling like a little girl and tripping over tongue-twisters when she gets a little tipsy and the way she says “I love you” to Barkley in the car while he’s singing are just so perfect, so sweet and lovely…), that I sure as hell wasn’t laughing anymore, and the movie that was straddling the line between parody and pure grace/dignity moved fully towards the latter.

I do wonder whether Winona Ryder based her old person prologue/epilogue performance in “Edward Scissorhands” on Beulah Bondi’s performance in “Make Way for Tomorrow”….



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