You know I think at one time I secretly wanted to be a writer.
On the topic of favorites, my favorite movie usually elicits one of the following responses:
I've never seen that...
That's a great movie!
Obviously it's the final response I like to hear. I also make the delineation between 'favorite' and 'best' in situations like this. A favorite does not equate to the belief that this is the most exceptional item in whatever list is being discussed -- though both are quite subjective, despite what creators and discussors of 'best of' lists would have people believe.
So what is my favorite movie? The Philadelphia Story.
It replaced The Princess Bride sometime after I turned 19. One day I want a dog that I can name CK Dexter Haven. I will call it Dex, except when I have to call it across distance ("CK Dexter Haven! Ohhhh, CK Dexter Haaaaaaven!" will ring out then) or want to chat to it (this is when "CK Dexter Haven, I would like to talk to you," will be employed).
I'm going to preface the intense gushing by stating up front that generally speaking I'm not a huge fan of either Hepburn or Stewart. This isn't to say I don't like or appreciate their work (though in my younger days I generally did not), but merely to state that neither of them interest me much as actors -- not in the way I'm interested in Cary Grant or Ingrid Bergman or Leslie Howard or my own trifecta of Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.
What has, from my second viewing on, fascinated me about this movie is the balance it strikes between farcical and biting comedy, light-hearded and emotional performance, and frivolous and serious issues. I cannot think of another move that is this funny while examining, on a very real level, societal conventions, prejudices, marriage and alcoholism. Still, the serious undertones of the movie never deter from the fact that it is one of the sharpest, wittiest, best-timed comedies ever.
Not only is the writing spot-on (and with some improvements I think from the original play), but the direction and casting are intrinsically linked to how good the movie is. It's one of Cary Grant's most understated (and therefore, I think, under-appreciated) performances. It's a perfect fit for Stewart's style without seeming repetitive of his other work. It's an obvious tour-de-force for Hepburn who obviously knew how to steer her own career as she tailored this film to suit her and did so flawlessly. Personally, other than Grant's wonderful portrayal of Dexter, my favorite performance in the film is Ruth Hussey's Liz. There's more than a touch of myself in her character so there's the self-identifier working in her favor; however, it's also a role of great sympathy and gumption, written and played with a sincerity rare in any era of film.
As I sit here writing this and desire to delve into the depths explored in the movie, I'm rendered incapable of being too serious about it since right now Mike is drunkenly hiccuping his way around Dexter's house as Dex patiently takes it all, and all the while the plot thickens. Yes, a comedy where you have to pay attention. Concept.
That in itself is the underlying brilliance of The Philadelphia Story: it doesn't let you rest. Similar to His Girl Friday and yet I think more accessible, more romantic, and blatantly more humourous, it takes multiple viewings to understand all the layers within it, yet never loses the core of romance and comedy. For first, and even second, time viewers I wouldn't recommend trying to read too much into the film. There are some disparities in how it treats the ideas of relationships and prejudice which are reflective of the time in which it was made, and there are a lot of feminists who slam the movie because they only see the film for these flaws and not the overarching messages. Still, as a snapshot of society created for entertainment, it's remarkably reflective and perceptive of the world it inhabits.
However, even if you just come for the romance and the funnies, you can't do much better than this movie.