It Could Happen to You

  • Title:  It Could Happen to You
  • Director:  Andrew Bergman
  • Date:  1994
  • Studio:  Tri-Star Pictures
  • Genre:  Romance, Comedy
  • Cast:  Nicolas Cage, Bridget Fonda, Rosie Perez, Isaac Hayes, Red Buttons, Stanley Tucci
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“A promise is a promise.”  — Charlie Lang

“Hey, we’ve got a cop [that] gave a waitress a $2 million dollar tip!” — Reporter

The original title for this film, reportedly based on a true story, was “Cop Gives Waitress $2 Million Tip”, which I like better than It Could Happen to You. However, the film is still an enjoyable feel-good movie. The film has a fairy tale feel to it, especially when it cuts to “Angel” (Isaac Hayes) who provides some narration to explain the plot and the characters.

Charlie Lang is a cop in Queens, New York. He’s happy in Queens and enjoys his job as a police officer. One day he and his partner are in a coffee shop for lunch, when they get a call. They are unable to get their lunch, and he’s short for paying the bill (two coffees). The waitress, Yvonne, offers to have the coffee on the house, but her attitude almost suggests that she thinks Charlie is trying to get out of the bill because he’s a cop. Charlie explains that he can pay for the coffee, but not a tip. He then tells her he feels really bad about being short, and promises her that he will split his lottery ticket with her if he wins, and pay her tip the next day if he doesn’t. She thinks he’s a goofball and doesn’t expect to see him again.

Yvonne, meanwhile, is having the worse day of her life when she first meets Charlie. She had gone bankrupt that morning, when she couldn’t pay the $12,000 on her Mastercard (run up by her ex-husband). Technically, she’s only separated, not divorced, because she can’t afford a divorce either – and thus by New York law she’s responsible for her husband’s debt on her card in her name. She also has a terrible boss who berates her and charges everything he can against her check (from her missing time due to the bankruptcy hearing to customers walking out without paying their check).

That night, Charlie discovers to his surprise that he and his wife actually won $4 Million with the lottery ticket. Charlie’s not sure what to do, but he wants to give the waitress the $2 Million he promised her. He goes back to the coffee shop the next day, and Yvonne is her normal self — kind-hearted, sweet, and warm. Charlie is impressed. In the end, he gives her a choice — her tip, or half what he won in the lottery. Thinking he won nothing, she still plays along and says – half of the lottery ticket money. Then Charlie tells her he’s giving her $2 Million.

Charlie continues to be a cop, because he enjoys it, and he’s in a Korean grocery when he realizes the place is getting robbed. He tells his partner, then sneaks in through the back as his partner covers the front. He’s able to stop the robbery but gets shot in the shoulder during the tussle. He’s decorated for bravery and retires.

Charlie is quickly getting bored out of his mind since he’s not working.

Meanwhile, Muriel, Charlie’s wife, a ambitious, spiteful, greedy woman, is wildly spending the money. She talks Charlie into going on a millionaires’ cruise in New York harbor. He goes with her, but gets off the boat when he sees Yvonne. The two miss the boat, but have dinner together and dance. The next day they go out on a “date”. Meanwhile, on the cruise, Muriel chats up an investment broker who tells her he’s made $44 Million with his investments.

Tensions rise between Charlie and Muriel, and eventually she demands a divorce.  Unhappy, and miserable, and realizing he no longer has anything in common with his wife, Charlie agrees.  He ends up going to the plaza hotel.  Yvonne meanwhile is having her own problems — her ex, not satisfied with asking her for money over the phone, shows up at her apartment.  When she can’t get him to leave – she leaves, and goes to the Plaza Hotel.

Needless to say, Charlie and Yvonne run into each other. But their “tryst” becomes front page news. Muriel gets an expensive lawyer to demand the lottery money. Charlie offers her his half, but explodes when she also demands Yvonne’s money. The case goes to court and Charlie and Yvonne lose.

That night Charlie goes to see Yvonne at the coffee shop. She’s bought the shop, but without the lottery money she won’t be able to hold on to it. Charlie asks her if she cares for him. Yvonne realizes she does. The two hold each other and make tentative plans to move to Buffalo. While they are taking, the character of Angel comes up to the window and mimes eating. Yvonne lets him in, and feeds him some soup. The man takes photos of the couple with a miniature camera. However, he doesn’t expose them; rather with the headline of  “Their Darkest Hour”, his article is about the kindness the two show towards a stranger, even while mired in their own problems. The next day, tons of letters arrive at Yvonne’s coffee shop, with small amounts of cash and checks ($5.00, $10.00 each etc). In all, the two end up with a $600,000 Good Samaritan fund. Yvonne keeps her coffee shop, Charlie goes back to the force to be a cop, and the two of course marry.

What makes It Could Happen to You such a feel good movie and a step above the average romantic comedy is that Charlie and Yvonne are just good people. On one of their days together, the two buy an entire bag full of subway tokens and treat everyone to free rides home. Yvonne’s first impulsive act when Charlie tells her she’s won and he’s giving her the money is to treat everyone in the coffee shop to free ice cream on their pie. Charlie gives a few bills to a homeless guy as he and his wife walk into one of the expensive shops when she goes on her first spending spree. But both are just kind, wonderful people who liking helping others. Charlie loves his job as a beat cop because he can help people. He also mentors and plays stickball with a group of street kids on his block. Yvonne, also, is a good person even though she’s gone through some tough times and bad luck on her own.

The style of  the film is very much like a fairy tale, and like any good fairy tale it has a good lesson about showing kindness to strangers and not being selfish. I highly recommend this movie!

Recommendation:  See It
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Shrek Forever After