The War of the Roses (1989)
Every Rose Has a Thorn
I should have seen her toes in the pit of my crotch as a cry for help - Gavin D'Amato
Warring couples, there have been a few movies which have explored the dark humour of a marriage breaking down, the fighting over who gets what when a relationship ends up in divorce. But whilst there have been various movies which have tried to explore the rich vein of dark humour of warring couples few have come anywhere close to "The War of the Roses" the third movie which featured Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito with DeVito taking on directional duties. And the reason why "The War of the Roses" is so good is not only because we have no holds barred fighting between Douglas and Turner's warring couple which is darkly funny but it also has a film-noir style with DeVito playing a divorce lawyer recounting their story to a client. It just creates this movie rich in visual style, rich in dark comedy, rich in comically brilliant performances and never ceases to make you laugh despite the cruelty which is on show.
Oliver (Michael Douglas - Wall Street) and Barbara (Kathleen Turner - Who Framed Roger Rabbit) were so in love, they met on a rainy day and over the years got married, had children got the home they dreamed of and Oliver the career he always wanted. But things ended up going wrong especially when Barbara imagined what life would be like with out Oliver and like what she saw. Realising she doesn't want to be married to him anymore they file for divorce but both want the house and neither are willing to give an inch, in fact they will go to any length to force the other person to leave the home.
One of the things which makes "The War of the Roses" so right is that whilst this is a movie where the darkly funny violence between Oliver and Barbara is what it is all about it doesn't rush into it. In fact for at least the first third of the movie we learn how Oliver and Barbara meet on a rainy day where Oliver notices Barbara, partly due to her bidding against him in an auction partly because her shirt is transparent thanks to the rain. What we watch is how they get to the point where the marriage ends, how Oliver's career and his sucking up to his bosses causes issues as does the fact that whilst well off Barbara starts her own business which is an embarrassment to Oliver. And this all culminates with a moment of drama were Oliver ends up in hospital thinking he is having a heart attack and it scares Barbara, not the fear of losing him but the fact the thought of him dying and the freedom she wound have made her happy.
Anyway this solid build up leads to what is the main story which is Oliver and Barbara fighting over who gets the house and they certainly fight. But it builds up the fighting so we go from arguments to dividing up rooms as they both still live in the same house, issues over dead pets, possible food poisoning till eventually it gets physical. But as this builds to its violent end we watch their characters change as well as Barbara gets both desperate and more evil whilst Oliver looses it to the point he looks like a madman.
Now admittedly that doesn't sound funny but thanks to the interjections and narration from lawyer Gavin D'Amato everything ends up becoming darkly funny. And the moments of slapstick, be it Oliver encountering a room full of mousetraps ends up being funny as does Barbara cart wheeling down the stairs. And with each scene it becomes darker and funnier, from Barbara planning to drop the chandelier on Oliver to the peace meal where both are wary that the other is going to try and poison them. It also helps that all of this is filmed with such style from creative angles to brilliant colour tone which enhances the darkness as well as the humour.
Of course with Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito reuniting for their third movie together it just clicks. That element of love hate which Douglas and Turner displayed in the previous movies is as present as ever and they just spark off of each other with venomous barbs which feel like a couple ripping into each other. And DeVito slips in nicely not only as the divorce lawyer and friend but also as narrator and it is because his ability to make it sound like he is regaling a story that it comes together. In many ways whilst Douglas and Turner provide all the violence and dark comedy it is DeVito which makes it funny but the way he tells the story, he makes Barbara being pushed down the stairs or Oliver running over the cat funny.
What this all boils down to is that "The War of the Roses" is not only a darkly funny comedy which is just as funny as it is now as it was at the end of the 80s it is also the best movie which tries to making fun from warring couples.
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