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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

It Could Happen To You (1994)



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The word "Capra-esque" as been applied to a great many modern lighthearted comedies, but rarely do I see the resemblance. The movies Frank Capra made in the thirties and forties had a certain sense of class, simplicity, and warmth that made them pleasant and instantly endearing. In this more cynical age, it's rare that any film possesses these qualities.

It Could Happen To You is a rare exception. It really is Capra-esque, in every sense. Happily, many modern critics recognize its elegance and humanity, yet there are still several that -- perhaps just after praising It's a Wonderful Life or It Happened One Night, patronize It Could Happen To You by calling it merely a "nice" movie about "nice" people. The movie deserves far more credit -- it recaptured the gloriously simple wonder of a funny, heartfelt Capra film, an accomplishment far more difficult than it looks and more rewarding than it appears.

As Roger Ebert said in his review of the film, It Could Happen To You is a romantic comedy "not so much about romance as about goodheartedness, which is a rarer quality, and not so selfish." Nicolas Cage plays a cop. At a restaurant, he lacks the money for a tip, so he splits a lottery ticket with the waitress (Bridget Fonda) instead. Naturally, the ticket wins, and Cage has a decision to make. Cage's wife, played by Rosie Perez, is, shall we say, less honorable than he is. Perez's performance is grating, annoying...perfect.

The movie succeeds with flying colors. It manages to be warm and uplifting without being sappy, and it manages to be funny, too. The humor, in addition, is intrinsic to the story and the characters, as opposed to sitcom-style gags pasted over it.

There's a slow spot or two toward the end where it looks the movie will trip over itself, but it pulls through. It's a minor storytelling flaw. More importantly, there isn't a moment where this story takes a wrong turn and compromises its spirit. This is a delightfully funny, engaging human story, plain and simple. That is what a Capra-esque film is all about.