I’ve known people whose marriage proposals have been turned down (that’s not a pretty situation), but I can’t say I’ve ever known anyone who received “Let me get back to you” in response to “Will you marry me?” I can’t even begin to fathom how someone in real life would go about responding to that. Considering that even in this day and age that most marriage proposals are done by men and what we also know about how fragile the male ego can be, there’s a lot of ways that situation can go south.
All things considered, Chris (Dan Soder) takes it pretty well when his girlfriend Sonia (Cristin Milioti) freaks out when she discovers he is planning to propose to her. I mean, he’s heartbroken and ends up living with the couple’s best friends Nora (Halley Feiffer) and Mark (Mark Gessner), but he tries not to take it too personally. After all, Sonia does tell Chris it’s not him, it’s her — she doesn’t feel like she’s ready to get married because she doesn’t feel like she has her life together yet no matter how much Chris says that her loves her for who she is. He even gives Sonia exactly what she wants: space and time, although he eventually becomes frustrated with her indecisiveness (as you’d expect). That’s essentially what It Had to Be You from first-time feature director Sasha Gordon is about: a young woman trying to figure out whether or not she is ready to get married.
Probably because I’m a male who has proposed to a woman before (spoiler alert: she said yes), I really felt for Chris. He’s in love with someone who doesn’t love herself. It’s not Chris that she is unhappy with. In fact, there’s no reason for her not to like Chris (as a bus driver helpfully points out to her near the end of the film). The glimpses we see of their relationship paint it as a pretty ideal situation. They get along very well, don’t seem to have any issues paying their bills, have close friends that seem fun — aside from Chris’ offhand mention that his father died, their lives seem pretty ideal. So this is a film about a woman who creates her own problems, which are usually the worst problems to have.
Of course, the biggest issue with making a film about a person who is responsible for her own misery is that the film falls apart if the audience doesn’t root for that character to repair her self-inflicted harm. It’s particularly important in a romantic comedy like It Had to Be You because if the audience isn’t invested in seeing the couple end up together before the credits roll, the movie fails.
Thankfully, Sonia is played by Milioti, who has a knack for portraying characters that are impossible to dislike. Her expressive face (I could write an article just about those eyes) and body language make her an easy character to love even when she is treating Chris rather shabbily. Gordon really lucked out by landing a well-known (and well-liked) actress like Milioti as her lead because an actress with different sensibilities may not have been able to pull the role off.
One aspect that sets It Had to Be You apart from romantic comedies with similar plots is the music. This might be Gordon’s first feature as a writer and director, but she has written music for films for over a decade (including for I Believe in Unicorns, which was featured at First Time Fest last year). Not only is Sonia a musician who writes pieces for television commercials, but the soundtrack of the movie is saturated with original music composed by Gordon as well as several renditions of the title song. It gives It Had to Be You a unique identity.
To add to the quirkiness of the film, there are several sequences that contain animation. Some of these visual gags work more effectively than others, and the better ones recall the meta gags in Annie Hall (an obvious influence on this movie). I could see some of the lest effective ones being trimmed, along with a brief mention of Sonia’s previous relationship with her boss that doesn’t lead anywhere. The film has an overall sweet tone, and some of these aspects stray a hair from what otherwise is an enjoyable romantic story.
Gordon has shown that she has no problem tackling a well-worn genre in an amusing way, so I hope she’ll reach into more unique territory with her next project as a director.