Love is what happens when you're busy making other plans.
Natasha Henstridge first made waves as the sexy alien from Species, then went on to star in such movies as John Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars. Michael Vartan paid his dues in small roles and French films until the hit TV show Alias made him a star. Lions Gate put both of them in a movie about two people already betrothed, who fall in love with each other called It Had to Be You. Set in romantic New York City, the movie still didn't have enough star power, made as it was prior to Alias's success. So the flick went straight to DVD, where a sweet romantic comedy like this can live a long and prosperous life. Or can it?
Facts of the Case
Charlie Hudson (Vartan) is a cop turned writer living with an upwardly mobile editor, Claire (Joelle Carter). They're to be married, but she's too busy with business to finalize plans, so she sends him packing to Manhattan. He is to stay at the Four Seasons and make the rounds, picking out china and tasting cake—tough gig, huh? Meanwhile, Anna Penn (Henstridge) is doing the same, as her husband is way too busy to help her out. Naturally, the two start to grow on each other and leads the other to question how they feel about their supposed true loves.
Romantic comedies are often based on fate, the game of chance that brings two souls together. Perfect romantic comedies—crisply scripted flicks that strive to provide clean, happy endings like Pretty Woman—ensure that lovable yet flawed characters find love and a better version of themselves in their soul mate.
Charlie (Vartan) and Anna (Henstridge, looking conservative and fresh-scrubbed here) must know they are mismatched to their respective fiancé(e)s. Charlie, a former cop specializing in talking down "jumpers," is now a writer living with an aggressive editor girlfriend, and Anna, a devoted elementary school teacher, is engaged to a high-powered businessman whose face we never see. So why the heck are they settling down with these people for the rest of their lives? Well, Charlie remembers the good old days when he and Claire were poor and Anna craves the stability David can give her.
Ah, but fate steps in. Anna stays in the hotel room directly above Charlie, and an overrun bathtub leaks onto his pillow one floor below. From there, the two meet for dinner, tag along to each other's wedding-planning appointments, and, inevitably, fall in love.
Helping them out with wit and wisdom are characters straight outta central casting: The ditzy Barney's saleswoman, the rumpled maintenance man, the meddling mothers. These characters are a little too obvious. For example, in Pretty Woman, the person least likely to be an ally to Julia Roberts' hooker Vivian was a refined hotel concierge, played by Hector Elizondo. His delightfully unexpected rapport with Vivian was revealed by a couple well-spoken words or gestures, not broad strokes of advice or humor that we are given here.
The two cookie-cutter characters in It Had to be You that are somewhat satisfying are Charlie and Anna's best friends, respectively—grizzled cop Henry Taylor (Michael Rispoli, Death To Smoochy) and New Yawk hairdresser Tracy Meltempi (Olivia d'Abo, The Wonder Years). Rispoli does a great job as Charlie's ex-partner and friend, and in a pat but nice subplot, he runs into Tracy, and romance threatens to blossom. The two have nice chemistry, but d'Abo's inconsistent accent was a little distracting. Poor thing couldn't decide between Britain and Brooklyn.
While I've never seen Henstridge act, she ended up being a pleasant surprise in this role. Sweet, sincere, and a pleasure to watch, I enjoyed her performance, however boring Anna is. Vartan's another story. I love him on Alias; he's an important member of the top-notch ensemble cast on that show. Here, he's sleepwalking through both the story and his role. Talking in a monotone, barely acknowledging major plot changes with facial expressions or even a raised brow, he appears to be onscreen only to collect a paycheck. I'm sure he recognized the script was blander than a water cracker, but c'mon, earn what you make, Mikey!
Now, about that script. Written by director Steven Feder (The Cottonwood), this movie doesn't say anything new about romance. It's trying to aspire to When Harry Met Sally and other modern classics, and it doesn't even come close. The characters are relatively boring; their significant others are so obviously unlikable that there's no texture to their romantic conflict. Henry and Tracy are much more interesting because they're working-class, wise-cracking, tenderhearted folks—flawed and sweet. Those are the kind of people we like to watch—the hooker with the heart of gold (Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman), the gruff womanizer-turned-brokenhearted-divorcé (Billy Crystal in Sally…). This is a routine take on male-female relations that is truly uneventful and uninteresting for the most part. It's a shame because New York is filmed so beautifully here. Feder took advantage of the city's foliage, grand architecture, and blue skies. I do think the classy feel of this film's aesthetics encroached into the character development and plot of the film—trying to remain tasteful and refined, any sense of goofy charm, adorable idiosyncrasies and human flaws in the main characters were lamentably missing.
Production-wise, the 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen picture was very nice. Little grain, no edge enhancement, and a nice spectrum of the warm, rich colors of New York make this a very attractive looking print. Blacks were dark and solid, reds and oranges had no buzz. Though it's a disappointment this isn't an anamorphic disc, it's still a crisp transfer from Lions Gate.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround sound was just fine—again it's crisp and clear with no buzz or extraneous noise. There's wasn't a big need for rough surround sounds or effects-savvy modulation here; this sound was adequate and aptly supported the film. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Extras consist only of trailers, for this film and The Dead Zone, the celebrated USA Networks show starring Anthony Michael Hall that looks a heckava lot more exciting than this movie.
Now, according to the back of the keep case, cast and crew interviews are also included on the DVD. They were nowhere to be found. I tried to find "secret" spots (though on a disc with so few extras, Lions' Gate is asking a lot to make you look) to no avail. Not sure what the scoop is on that.
What I really liked about the DVD production is the layout of the menus. The design was very nice, with diagonal lines forming a grid, each square filled with a snapshot of the movie in rich, warm tones. A nice presentation that added to the aforementioned classiness of the New York setting.
Michael Vartan must have known great success was around the corner and gave this bland script a bland character. Rispoli and d'Abo at least give this flick some heft and craziness. But if I were you, I'd pass up the opportunity to fall in love with It Had to be You. A routine story line and blah extras (i.e…none!) make this one a lonely video store refugee.
Sentenced to one year reading "Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus" for lack of fresh insights and exciting characters!
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