If you’ve never seen the 1994 movie, “It Could Happen to You” starring Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda, you’re missing out; because it really is heartwarming tale of how good human nature can be at its best. And it’s a ripping yarn too.
Nicholas Cage plays New York cop Charlie Lang; an easy-going guy who loves his work in the borough of Queens, where he also lives with his rather socially and materialistically “ambitious” wife Muriel (superbly portrayed by Rosie Pérez). Muriel is a hairdresser by trade and completely different to Charlie.
Meanwhile, we meet a waitress called Yvonne Biasi (who is very ably played by Bridget Fonda), who becomes bankrupted when her husband Eddie (Stanley Tucci) takes their joint cash without her consent, whilst also leaving the hapless Yvonne with massive credit card debts.
One day, Charlie eats breakfast at the diner where Yvonne works, then realises he doesn’t have sufficient cash for a tip. At this point, he offers to halve any winnings from the lottery ticket he has bought with her.
Charlie then wins $4 million on the state lottery and, despite a massive argument with his wife, decides to keep his promise.
At first, Yvonne thinks it’s all some kind of sick joke. But she gradually realises it’s real and decides to buy the diner at which she’s been working; setting up a table in Charlie’s honour to serve free food to people who can’t afford to pay.
Charlie’s marriage, meanwhile, is suffering and Muriel throws him out, suing him for divorce and also suing for all the money he gave to Yvonne. She wins the case, Charlie and Yvonne stand to lose everything, but start to fall in love with one other. One evening, while they’re talking about their future at Yvonne’s diner, they give and poor, hungry old man a free meal at the special table. But it later transpires that this man is in fact an undercover journalist. He publicises their generosity and their new financial plight and this causes the New York public to make huge donations to the pair, eventually totalling $600k
The movie is a great yarn, but the real-life story was different. An officer called Robert Cunningham really did halve his $6 million lottery win with waitress Phyllis Penzo back in 1984. But the rest is fiction and neither Penzo or Cunningham received any royalties from the movie.
But it doesn’t stop people falling in love with the big USA lotteries and now, people from all over the world can enter the USA’s Mega Millions draw, where the potential prize runs to an incredible one billion dollars. And when you consider that any money you win with the MegaMillions would be tax free, for UK residents, it’s even bigger in reality.