The War of the Roses (1989)

war of the roses

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Yuppie couple destroys home.

Oliver and Barbara Rose (Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner) are a married couple with contrasting personalities who find that they no longer get along and in fact can’t even stand each other. They agree to a divorce and all of the assets except for the house. Both of them want to keep it and Oliver’s attorney Gavin (Danny DeVito) has found a loophole in the law that allows Oliver to remain there even after the separation is final. The problem is that they continue to get on each other’s nerves, which culminates with them locking themselves into the home one dark, harrowing night and using whatever prop available to vent their anger onto the other while inadvertently destroying the house in the process.

Some consider this to be one of the darkest comedies to ever be financed by a major Hollywood studio and when you think about it, it really is amazing. Most major studios shy away from edgy material and water it down until it becomes benign, but this film, which is based on the 1981 Warren Adler novel of the same title, stays quite true to its source material. The humor is on-target while making a great trenchant statement towards capitalism and yuppies in general. DeVito’s direction is visual and imaginative and there are some truly funny moments including the one where Turner destroys Douglas’s British Morgan Roadster with her 4-wheel drive truck.

The reuniting of Douglas and Turner from the Romancing the Stone films was perfecting casting. The two seem to have genuinely distinctive personas and it’s fun to imagine this as simply an extension of their earlier characters of Jack Colton and Joan Wilder and what happens when their rosy romance turns into the realities of marriage. The scene where Douglas’s character saws off the heels of Turner’s shoes is a great connection to their earlier film as his character did the exact same thing there, but it was unfortunate that we never get to see Turner’s reaction to it.

The production is slick, but having DeVito act as the film’s narrator seemed a bit distracting at times and the film might’ve worked better without him although he does have a few verbal gems during the second hour that almost makes up for it. I also didn’t like that the character who he tells this story to never says a single word, which to me seemed unnatural and weird as did his green painted office. Having the two kids of the couple turn out to be pudgy and fat was amusing and helped in a metaphorical way to symbolize the parent’s gluttony for materialism, but then the filmmakers end up ruining their own joke by having the kids later on become thin and attractive for no reason.

Spoiler Alert!!

The knock-down ending inside the home is great and DeVito’s use of Hitchcock overtones is inspired. Seeing the couple trapped on a ceiling chandelier while the camera travels up the wires of the light and into the attic where we see how the added weight bursts the bolts that anchors it is quite clever and even ingenious, but I was disappointed that the two end up crashing to the floor and dying. For one thing I didn’t think it was a big enough fall to have killed both of them. Maybe one, but most likely they both would’ve survived, but with injuries. Either way it would’ve been more interesting to see how they responded to each other after the incident and whether it helped to change them or their love/hate relationship, which to some degree is the film’s most unsatisfying aspect

End of Spoiler Alert!!

Adler wrote a sequel to his novel in 2004 that dealt with a messy divorce of the Rose’s grown son Josh to his wife. That book has now been put into production as a movie entitled The War of the Roses: The Children although no release date or cast has been announced as of yet.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated R

Director: Danny DeVito

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

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