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“If I won the lottery,” so many say.
“If I won the lottery,” oh, what a day!
“The things I would buy and the bills I could pay,
The dreams I could fill and the places I’d stay!”
And that’s why so many will plead and will pray
For six random numbers confirming their luck.

If you won the lottery, what would you do?
If you won the lottery, would it change you?
Dreams can be marvelous when they come true
But often result in more pain than you knew.
While waiting for fortune and fame to break through,
Enjoy life a bit before you’re money-struck.
(And then make it count when you do make a buck.)
_________________

MPAA rating: PG

There’s something refreshingly old-fashioned about It Could Happen to You. For a ‘90s rom-com with Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda, I can easily envision a 1940s version with Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson. (It’s easy for me to picture them together after The Glenn Miller Story.) There’s a wholesomeness here that you just don’t see nowadays, strengthened by the “Once upon a time” fairy tale narration by Isaac Hayes.

For all his nuttier roles, Cage is admirably down-to-earth as responsible NYPD officer Charlie Lang, who’s beloved of the whole neighborhood except for his critical wife Muriel (Rosie Perez). Strapped for cash at a diner one day and too upstanding to not leave a tip, he promises down-and-out waitress Yvonne (Bridget Fonda) that he’ll split his lottery ticket with her if he wins. Lo and behold, he does, much to Yvonne’s delight and Muriel’s chagrin. Everyone uses their newfound fortune differently, and it doesn’t take long to see Charlie and Yvonne deserve each other far more than greedy Muriel or Yvonne’s also-greedy husband (a barely recognizable Stanley Tucci).

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Based on and greatly exaggerating a real life story from ten years prior, It Could Happen to You begins with a universal what-if question of winning the lottery and extends that to ask whether Charlie should uphold his promise and how best to wield such riches. We as the audience may not be as humanitarian as Charlie and Yvonne, who freely share their wealth with the less fortunate, but we’re hopefully not as heartless as the scheming Muriel. Most people probably fall somewhere between the two extremes, but seeing them side by side reminds us just how laudable a Charlie or an Yvonne is in this selfish world. Yvonne even points out that, as decent people, they seem to be “freaks” in a place like New York City, but the end suggests that there are far more lovers of decency than the news headlines would have us believe.

Despite having an all-around charm to it, I must admit that It Could Happen to You isn’t very strong in the comedy department. I don’t remember laughing once, though Cage and Fonda largely made up for that with their sweet chemistry. On the other hand, Rosie Perez’s grating voice made her excessively unpleasant, as if the courtroom scenes with her calculating lawyer weren’t enough. Don’t you hate those scenes where some devious lawyer twists the facts to paint the worst possible picture of an innocent defendant who’s too inarticulate to escape being backed into a corner? I do, so the film’s second half was a tad annoying before it bounced back to satisfying.

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With the classic tune “Young at Heart” sung by both Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, the film evokes a vaguely similar tone as Sleepless in Seattle but could have used a more humorous script. Still, lacking much profanity or objectionable content, it’s a reminder that Hollywood once did PG-rated romances just as well as the R-rated ones. Fonda and Cage have rarely been so appealing, and the end is likely to leave you with a smile.

Best line: (Charlie, about Muriel) “It’s like we’re on two different channels now. I’m CNN, and she’s the Home Shopping Network.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
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