Currently running before many a film in theaters is a series of ads reminding people to not talk on the phone (or text) during a film. Of course, the ads don't start out there, they start out by showing the umpteen million ridiculous phone calls that have to take place in order to get a movie made (hence the series' tag line: "It takes many phone calls to make a movie and only one to ruin it").
One of these ads features a screenwriter who has written a movie about Jack the Ripper. As the commercial progresses this true story gets morphed into something utterly ridiculous, perhaps successful, but ridiculous. The "based on a true story" idea gets perverted into something ludicrous. For those out there who think the commercial is a joke, I submit for your consideration the 1994 film It Could Happen to You.
The film, which stars Nicolas Cage, Bridget Fonda, and Rosie Perez, is actually – according to the box – "inspired by a true story." In the filmic version of the story a police officer, Charlie Lang (Cage), buys a lotto ticket for his wife, Muriel (Perez), but promises half of the potential winnings to a waitress (Fonda) when he doesn't have the tip on a two dollar bill. The ticket comes up as a four million dollar winner, Lang makes good on his promise, and Muriel winds up hating her husband.Before you feel too bad for Charlie, remember that this is a romantic comedy and that Muriel is played by Rosie Perez with all the obnoxious whine in her voice that she can muster. She is nearly as unlikable a character as anyone can imagine – if she strangled puppies the portrait would be complete. On the other side, the waitress, Yvonne, is incredibly likable and just happens to be coming out of a bad marriage herself.
It's a beautiful true story — the cop and the waitress meant to be together, the whole city of New York coming to their aid, and the wretched exes left to get their just desserts. It's also not so much true. In fact, it's hardly true at all. The true points are, essentially, these: there was a cop who split his lotto winnings with a waitress. That's it. The cop and the waitress had actually been friends ahead of time, they picked the numbers together, they ended up winning six — not four — million, neither worked in New York City, and 10 years later both remained happily married to their original spouses.
As a romantic comedy goes, the film is a strict paint by number affair, following the well-worn, well-established formula that we all know to expect. What is most unfortunate about the film though is not it's strict adherence to the formula, it's the fact that it tries to pass itself as remotely true. There's even a narrator (played by Isaac Hayes) who appears repeatedly just to further establish the veracity of the story. Obviously viewers shouldn't take a "based a true story" claim to mean that a movie is true, but this film stretches the claim to the extreme. Yes, this film only claims inspiration from a true story, but they're trying to have the viewer draw the same conclusion as "based on a true story" would. Imagine if the new Star Trek movie had been touted as "inspired by a true story," after all, people have gone to space. Surely the notion of the space race helped inspire Roddenberry initially, so technically the claim could be true, it would just never be made because of how silly the idea is.