top of page
Bridget Fonda, Nicolas Cage, and Rosie Perez in 1994's "It Could Happen to You."

It Could Happen to You November 15, 2021


Andrew Bergman


Nicolas Cage
Bridget Fonda
Rosie Perez
Isaac Hayes
Seymour Cassel
Stanley Tucci
J.E. Freeman








1 Hr., 41 Mins.


ndrew Bergman’s It Could Happen to You (1994) is such a lightweight, charmingly insubstantial comedy that you half-expect it to float away. You watch it the same way you’d read a feel-good story in a small-town newspaper: amused, glad to have engaged with it, though aware deep down that it will dance out of the other ear within the next few days. (This is an on-track reaction: the movie borrows its

premise from a real-life incident that for a time was a media magnet because it was both so unbelievable and so — pardon my language — sweet.) 


It Could Happen to You follows a good-natured cop named Charlie (Nicolas Cage) who, at the beginning of the movie, stops by a diner with his partner Bo (Wendell Pierce) for some quick coffees and frets when he realizes he doesn’t have enough money to tip their waitress, Yvonne (Bridget Fonda). Charlie does have a lottery ticket in his pocket, though, so he promises Yvonne that he’ll make up for today’s missed gratuity by stopping by tomorrow and giving her half the money if he’s lucky enough to get the winning number. (If that doesn’t pan out, he’ll just give her a belated big tip.) She rolls her eyes; then they widen in shock the next day when Charlie returns and announces that he miraculously had the golden ticket. He’s due $4 million; Yvonne will, true to his word, be getting her cut. The win couldn’t come at a better time: Yvonne’s just had to declare bankruptcy because her loser ex-husband (Stanley Tucci) abruptly spent $12,000 of her money and skipped town. Her getting the good news might be the best scene in the movie: Fonda’s over-the-moonness feels genuine — has an ecstatic improvisational quality.  

The obvious next step for Charlie and Yvonne, the film suggests, is to fall in love. You sense the media wants it, the way the pair is covered in the news: these obscenely likable people more prone to spending their earnings on strangers in need than personal wants are like a warmly harmonized note. But they have an obstacle in Charlie’s wife Muriel (a blustery Rosie Perez), who is cartoonishly greedy and materialistic and thinks Charlie is an idiot for living up to his word with Yvonne. As played by Perez, Yvonne is a little like the Lina Lamont character from Singin’ in the Rain (1952): so abnormally evil and screechy and vain (she has a towering painting of herself in the living room to drive in this characteristic) that the movie is practically rooting for some infidelity to go on. It seems improbable that someone as apparently mellow and tenderhearted as Charlie would end up with like someone like Muriel. When he explains how they got together later in the movie, it’s like the exposition was written in at the last minute because a crew member couldn’t help themselves from pointing out that this dysfunctional couple makes almost no sense together. 

Perez’s Lamont-like figure isn’t the only thing evoking classic Hollywood cinema in It Could Happen to You. This is a comedy that feels of a piece with the ones that flourished in the 1930s and ‘40s and came from the minds of, say, Frank Capra or George Cukor at his bubbliest — designed, a little to a lot, to make you temporarily have slightly more faith in humanity. Scrubbed of any traces of true realism, It Could Happen to You has an old-fashioned creaminess. The friendly orchestral score always swells at just the right time, with additional soundtrack picks generally going retro with Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra and others from that era. The leads project a real “goodness” (shame that Charlie is a cop) in a wholesome James Stewart, June Allyson sort of way. The visuals have a glowiness that reinforces that cameras are capturing all this. The comedy is too soft to have real edges. Good and bad are left in an obvious binary. It Could Happen to You is a perkily sentimental, almost innocent movie. 


I didn’t want to like It Could Happen to You — I’m allergic to movies I can feel nudging me to smile and “feel good” — but I did anyway, because Cage and Fonda are believably nice and have pleasant chemistry, because Isaac Hayes makes a random appearance and I’m always happy to see him, because sometimes a movie like It Could Happen to You, whose saccharinity feels more earnestly believed-in than cynical, is nice to have once in a while. Akin to Yvonne’s reaction when she learns of her winnings, the movie was, the night I watched it, a welcome surprise. B

bottom of page