Marvel has once again signaled the arrival of the summer movie season with the release of Captain America: Civil War, which boasts most, if not all, of the classic superheroes in that universe as they all gather to battle one another in what is quickly becoming one of the highest-grossing films of the year.
The film may be titled Captain America, but doubtless it will be Tony Stark/Iron Man who will emerge as the fan favorite in this installment, thanks in large part to the endlessly fun energy that Robert Downey Jr. continues to bring to the role. Iron Man will certainly follow the actor to his grave as his most indelible role, but whenever I tend to think of the actor’s eclectic filmography, I can’t help but spend a few moments recalling his show-stopping turn in the charming 1989 comedy Chances Are.
In Chances Are, a promising young Washington DA named Louie (Christopher McDonald) is living the perfect life. His career is soaring, his new bride Corinne (Cybill Shepherd) has just announced she’s pregnant with their first child, and although his best friend Philip (Ryan O’Neal) has revealed he’s secretly in love with Corinne, he remains a loyal friend. When Louie is suddenly killed in a car accident, he finds himself transported into the body of a newborn named Alex. Decades later, a grown up Alex (Downey) encounters the beautiful Miranda (Mary Stuart Masterson) at a college library, with whom he has an instant connection. When it’s revealed that Miranda is Corinne’s daughter, a flood of memories come washing over Alex as he soon realizes that he is in fact Louie reincarnated.
The secret ingredient to Chances Are’s potency as a quality film is the way it so expertly mixes romance and comedy. This is a film where everyone has romantic feelings for someone else. What’s more, the characters are so human and likeable that the audience can’t help but crave for everyone to have their feelings of love be realized. The film takes great pains to illustrate the different kinds of love that can exist and the consuming power they all share. Whether it be Miranda’s instant connection to Alex, Philip’s decades-long love for Corinne, or Corinne’s eternal longing for Philip, the minds behind Chances Are should be lauded for creating a film which never trivializes one of the most represented emotions in the movies, but rather shows how the many forms it takes can affect anybody.
Despite its many romantic motifs, it’s never once forgotten that Chances Are is first and foremost a comedy. And with talents such as Shepherd and Downey, the laughs are never in short supply. The best comedies never limit themselves to just one brand, and this is most certainly the case here with moments of pure farce, such as Alex recklessly dancing with a rich Washington widow (who holds the future of Corinne’s job in her hands), or the moment when Corinne and Alex, about to make love, are interrupted by Philip, leading to a hilarious scuffle involving all three. Other times, the extremely well-written screenplay offers up loads of chuckle-worthy lines for all of it’s characters to recite. Case in point, the moment when Corinne is trying to explain to her shrink how she not only believes Alex is Louie, but that she’s fallen for him as well. “He’s 22 years old,” she states. “But its not like I’m rushing into anything. I’ve known him for 26 years.”
Chances Are was written by the sister screenwriting team of Perry and Randy Howze, who were inspired to write the film after being taken by the story of how the death of their great-aunt’s true love after only a year of marriage greatly impacted her, leading them to posit what would happen if he returned in another form. Films about reincarnation and cosmic connections are full of endless storytelling appeal, mainly because they provide a sense of mystery with regard to the possibilities they afford characters. As a strange woman in a bookstore explains to Alex, “It’s all connected under the skin. You never know who’s lurking in what body. Your wife could be your grandmother. You meet some guy who gets on your nerves; probably your mother-in-law,” she says. “We keep meeting the souls we’re attached to. For better or worse, life after life.” It’s certainly one of the most romantic of notions to examine, seeped in both hope and wonder.
With a script as strong and as sweeping as Chances Are, the actors can’t help but find themselves giving performances just as fun and soulful as the material in front of them. Shepherd (returning to the screen after a 6-year absence) gives the kind of performance that would rival Carole Lombard, mixing loveliness and slapstick for one of her most endearing turns on screen. Downey recognizes the great acting showcase the role of Alex provides and turns in a performance full of charisma and manic comedic energy. O’Neal proves heartbreaking, while also hilarious as a man whose feelings have held him captive for so long, while Masterson breathes life into her character, making Miranda a strong and independent young woman with a vulnerable side.
While it may not seem a movie that would warrant critical love, Chances Are was overwhelmingly embraced by critics, who praised the film for re-working a familiar genre and making it feel fresh and new. Audiences felt differently, however, as the film did paltry business at the box office, managing to make back its budget, though not much more. The film received a slight boost of popularity when the theme song, “After All,” (performed by Cher and Peter Cetera) became a top 10 hit and was nominated for both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song.
I’m so glad movies such as Chances Are exist. They deceptively force audiences to look at some of the most fundamental aspects of life, which are more often than not taken for granted. The fact that they do this under the guise of laughter and escapism is nothing short of magical. If someone were to ask me in a nutshell to describe the nuts and bolts of Chances Are, I would say it is a film about healing, moving on, and coming to terms with a love which is gone, yet will always remain.