The War of the Roses

Bottom Line: If parodied on a Simpsons episode, this would be called Itchy and Scratchy Get Married.

“So how am I supposed to respond? You to tell me you wished I was dead?!” –Michael Douglas as Oliver Rose
“I thought it was important.” –Kathleen Turner as Barbara Rose

Directed by: Danny DeVito
Starring: Dan Castellaneta, Danny DeVito, G.D. Spradlin, Gloria Cromwell, Heather Fairfield, Kathleen Turner, Marianne Sagebrecht, Michael Douglas, Peter Donat, Sean Astin

For those unfamiliar with The War of the Roses, it most certainly is not a historical account of the identically titled European wars fought from the mid to late 15th century. The title does, however, exaggerate sublimely on a tale that could have simply been released as The Continuing Quarrels of Mr. and Mrs. Rose. Written by Michael Leeson, a scribe perhaps otherwise known for his occasional contributions to far tamer family comedies such as TV’s Happy Days and The Partridge Family, the tale is narrated by a lawyer by the name of Gavin d’Amato (Danny DeVito, who also provided an impressive direction). One of his former clients, Oliver Rose (Michael Douglas), is a wealthy, busy student at Harvard Law School. Only to change his life–in the way he least expects–is a woman named Barbara (Kathleen Turner), whom he meets at an auction. After some friendly chatting, Barbara realizes she has missed the ferry she was going to take back home, and decides to spend the night with Oliver. It’s likely that the pace at which the events unfold almost as quickly as they actually happen, with the two of them wedding and having two children. We can admit it wasn’t really a good choice to begin with before chaos begins, and that they would have been far better as only friends, and eventually, Barbara grows sick of Oliver and pleads him for divorce. Let’s put the rest in the simplest of terms: this starts as a marital issue; evolves into a legal issue; which then culminates in a violent, catastrophic, destructive…financial and vital issue, so to speak.

Seeing from the plot, any skeptic familiar with the golden age of cinema would view The War of the Roses as a mere bastardization of His Girl Friday, with the blatant, exaggerated touches needed to twist it into a black comedy. Essentially, that’s the basic root of what the film is: a man fallen under the trap of a shrew who has become sick of him. Yet it’s all so entertainingly conveyed here. Dare I say that we actually see less and less His Girl Friday blood as the story progresses. Without deviating from the comedic stance of the picture, DeVito begins to take his directorial style down a slightly more Hitchcockian route, complemented by a musical score that sounds as if out of a more sophisticated B-movie. Due to these additives, Kathleen Turner seems to show more of a darker, nastier side that provides a reminder of Tippi Hedren’s portrayal of the titular character in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie***.

“‘What fresh hell is this?'” –Kathleen Turner as Barbara Rose quoting Dorothy Parker

The War of the Roses does occasionally suffer from showcasing a handful of gags that literally fall crΓͺpe flat; however, there are tens of dozens of incredibly successful jests–easily enough to outweigh the failures and to make them instantly forgettable. Not since I watched A Fish Called Wanda have I guffawed so guffawed with such side-splitting joy, with close runners-up being Fargo and Harold and Maude (why yes, I am very fanatic of the dark comedy!). This is the kind of misfortune we laugh at so agonizingly, we never never get the notion about how terrible it would be in reality. To make matters worse, much of the film is set around the holidays. In comparison, the premises of Die Hard and Gremlins seem tame. The War of the Roses isn’t a horror movie. It isn’t disturbing or emotionally harrowing. And even though logic isn’t a forte for director DeVito or writer Leeson, the senseless violence is presented in a fashion that is comical, cohesive, and tasteful. Even with a scarce lack of innovation, the story is entirely entertaining and a riotous viewing.

***Fun fact for those who have seen Marnie: I actually know a dog who is afraid of all three things Marnie is afraid of–thunderstorms, men, and the color red. Weird, right?



6 thoughts on “The War of the Roses

  1. I absolutely love this film. It’s so dark and nasty, and DeVito just pulls no punches. DeVito is so underrated as a director (His Hoffa and Matilda are terrific entertainments). I’m sad this is the last of the Douglas/Turner/DeVito trifecta — I wish these three would make more. Like Sati said, the dynamics between Turner/Douglas are sorely missed this day and age.

    Awesome review!

  2. Fantastic review! I really adore this movie, it’s one of my favorite dark comedies. Turner and Douglas have such great on screen chemistry and the fact they played together in something as different as Romancing the Stone before only makes it more impressive, since the dinamics between them was so different in these two.

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