It Could Happen to YouBy Mark Myers
What would you do?
Let’s forget the the fairy tale aspect of It Could Happen to You, and discuss the moral issue that the movie presents. If you won the lottery, would you split it with a complete stranger because you promised? Now, I’m talking a verbal agreement with nothing in writing. There’s no expectations from the stranger, and no one would think less of you if you decided to keep it. Even with all of these factors making it easy to be selfish, would you still keep the promise?
The answer is simple for Officer Charlie Lang (Cage). The righteous and charitable Queens native keeps his word and gives half of his winnings to a waitress because he promised it as a tip. He thought about it, but it was never in doubt what he would do. Lang was written perfectly, he never deviated from his morals, and you always knew what he was going to do.
Of course, none of this melded with his money-hungry wife, Muriel (Perez). She was as selfish as he was philanthropic, and it eventually dissolved their marriage. The one key thing the writer did was establish her greedy ways prior to winning the lottery. The contrast between Muriel and Charlie was somehow realistic and over the top at the same time. Even though it’s obvious that she was the wrong choice in the romantic comedy love triangle, the character’s personality is so established that she never becomes the embodiment of evil that most become in this genre.
The performances displayed by Cage and Perez didn’t disappoint. Cage was his normal goofy self with a few explosions of over-acting, and Perez allowed her accent to exaggerate more than her character in White Men Can’t Jump. But the heart of the movie was Fonda’s turn as a hard on her luck waitress who makes unfortunate choices. It’s amazing that I always forget how pretty she was in the early 90s, and it wasn’t supermodel looks, but wholesome girl next door beauty. When her and Cage are together, you root for them, and get mad when the lose the money; even though you knew it was coming. This is the hallmark of great character development.
While we aren’t all as extreme to one side of this dilemma, there’s a definitely a gray area that we can all agree exist. We wouldn’t be as charitable as Charlie, but we also wouldn’t be as greedy as Muriel, so the question is a much tougher one than the movie establishes. There are bills, wants, family, and a whole host of reasons why you would keep the money, but would you risk the regret you would feel if you reneged on a promise?
Personally, I would lean toward Charlie on this one because you could always invest some of the money and recoup what you split with the stranger. At least, I hope that’s what I’d do, as would most of us. It Could Happen to You showcased the fairy tale version of the story, with Yvonne (Fonda) being Snow White, Charlie is Price Charming, and Muriel is the Evil Queen. For what it is, the movie is quite solid; nothing earth-shattering, but good. But more importantly…
What would you do?
Cage and Perez give their usual stock performances, while the surprise additions of Bunk and Stanley Tucci, give the film some perfect comedic moments. Probably in the top echelon of rom-coms, but not transcended enough to be a classic on the “Harry Met Sally” level.