It’s Always Fair Weather is a Gene Kelly movie about three soldiers who return to New York City immediately after World War Two. They assume that they will be as close for the rest of their life as they were when they were in the trenches together, but a cynical bartender tells them that they are being naïve. They end up making a bet that they will reappear at that same bar ten years later with their friendship intact. Most of the movie takes place after they meet up again in 1955, where the three men try to reconcile how they expected their lives to turn out with how they actually turned out.
It’s a promising set up. A lot of the best post-war movies were about the struggles that G.I.s had with acclimating back to the civilian world, so I’m sure that a lot of the people who saw this in the theater were hoping for another The Best Years of Our Lives. But even leaving aside the generational specificity of the set up, it’s still an interesting hook because I think almost anyone who gets older has to face the gap between their hopes and their realities. (I know that’s something I’ve faced.)
In fact, during much of the movie I was thinking about how such a scenario would play out in my life. It’s actually very easy for me to imagine because I’m two months shy of my 10th anniversary of living in Portland, so I don’t have to do that much tricky math to try to figure out what the markers would be for me if I had made a similar bet. As the movie went on I got more and more absorbed in comparing my social group now versus then… Which is a good sign, because it meant that the movie gave me something I could connect to, but also a bad sign, in that it means that for long stretches I was daydreaming.
The problem, you see, is that the premise isn’t executed that well. Having three different main characters means that there’s a lot of plot juggling to be done, especially once you factor in that the movie also wants to make time for song and dance numbers. (Even worse: some of the song and dance numbers don't even feature the main characters, so the songs don't always act as montages that provide a lot of backstory quickly.)
Another problem is that instead of focusing on these soldiers looking back (which would invoke nostalgic notions that would be very relateable), it wants to focus on problems they have at that exact moment, like whether or not to let a mob boss fix a boxing match (a problem that’s slightly less universal.) Throw in a romance subplot that's reminiscent of every Catherine Hepburn screwball comedy and you end up with something that’s overstuffed and slightly undercooked.
Which is not to say that the movie totally lacks merit; Gene Kelly is always delightful to watch whether he’s dancing with roller skates or trash can lids on his feet. But it is to say that you can see two alternate versions of this movie being made – one of which was a fairly typical 50’s melodrama about dames and boxing matches and one which was about optimists struggling with lowered expectations and the path not taken. Unfortunately, It's Always Fair Weather took one path when the path not taken was probably better.