The Philadelphia Story is one of George Cukor’s most beloved films, a shining relic from a moment in studio moviemaking when minds could freely meet and talents combine across disciplines—at least occasionally. Everyone’s at the top of their game, from screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart (adapting Philip Barry’s play) to the unbeatable cast (centered on warring trio Katharine Hepburn, Oscar winner Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant) to Cukor himself, who proves to be every bit as fine of a visual stylist as some of his showier peers. The result is a worldly, pragmatic reflection on the complex affinities people have for one another, remarkable for its sexual frankness, its nuanced attention to character motivation, and its balance of empathy and cruelty. Of all the Hollywood classics, few have aged so little, or so well.
The screwball comedy was a great inspiration for Worst Person, but especially Cukor’s variant of it. He doesn’t avoid physical comedy when the laugh is right, but for him it’s more about character than pratfalls. Rather than just being about a woman having to choose the right guy, The Philadelphia Story is about the various aspects of Hepburn’s character, Tracy Lord. It describes how she needs to accept both her own and others’ vulnerability and flaws to be able to succeed in real and intimate relationships and love. The film’s dissection of Tracy is relentless and the writing almost cruel, but Cukor’s love for Hepburn and her character always shines through. —Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt