Unfairly bundled up with or pigeonholed alongside the likes of merely-average rom-com, Sleepless In Seattle (1993), this movie is actually one of Hollywood’s very best romantic comedies about modern fairy tale love and wish-fulfilment, that were made during the 1990s.
It’s an apocryphal ‘true story’ about conscientiously honest New York cop, Charlie (Nicolas Cage), cheerful and supremely generous diner-waitress Yvonne (Bridget Fonda), and the winning lottery ticket which – as coolest of all possible mcguffins – brings them together. Basically, in lieu of a service tip, a temporarily-skint Charlie promises Yvonne a share of his lottery ticket, if he wins. When he does in fact win $4 million, Charlie’s rather whimsical – yet fateful – pledge costs him half of that, and more, but eventually rewards him with a greater joy.
We are assured, often enough, that money cannot buy love or happiness – but, if received in sufficient quantity (beyond the proverbial ‘dreams of avarice’), a cash payout will – quite obviously – free anyone from such economic hardships
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as the need to work or a struggle just to live, and help acquire more satisfying leisure time – at least for a ‘nouveau riche’ person who knows what to spend a fortune on wisely and how to avoid squandering a windfall.
Charlie’s grasping wife Muriel (Rosie Perez) is a desperate social-climber. She falls prey to smarmy con-man Jack (Seymour Cassel), and she quickly loses practically everything, including whatever boon she received in the court settlement from her inevitable divorce from ‘unfaithful’ husband Charlie.
Charlie’s NYPD partner Bo Williams (Wendell Pierce) is not just a background character. His timely advice to Charlie has a measurable impact in the scenario. Mysterious ‘homeless man’ Angel (Isaac Hayes), who’s also the narrator of this story, is really an undercover newshound, documenting this rags-to-riches rise-and-fall tale, as human-interest journalism. Hayes’ presence as Angel in the film grants the appealing drama a certain quality of urban fable, adding considerable charm to the romantic fiction.
Written by a woman, TV writer and producer Jane Anderson; directed by a man, Andrew Bergman – maker of Honeymoon In Vegas (also with Nicolas Cage), and Striptease (the memorable vehicle for Demi Moore), It Could Happen To You benefits from such different gender perspectives on the shifting levels of romance and the necessity of maintaining a sense of humour and proportion – during any marital break-up, amongst all the other problematic trials (self-indulgence versus selflessness, in particular), and troublesome crises that are so common in today’s highly pressurised urban lifestyles.
For an undeniably lightweight rom-com ‘flick’, this actually has a lot of worthwhile social commentary, with many fascinating things to say about monetary ethics in morality and legal issues, honesty in relationships, prescience and conscience, and how – occasionally – just a simple courtesy may change your life, or someone else’s.