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Love on the Rocks: The Dark Comedy of the War of the Roses

Throughout life, there have been plenty of relationships we can all look back on to see wh they failed or ended disastrously. In some relationships, people can see that love or friendship can often be blinding. For those who want to recall both, there is one movie for you: The War of the Roses

Based on the novel of the same name by Warren Adler, the film tells the story of Barbara and Oliver Rose, played by Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas, respectively. They’re an idealistic couple with the perfect house, the perfect kids, and nothing but the illusion of a happy marriage. Emphasis on the illusion of happiness. Their relationship begins when they lock eyes on a priceless antique at an auction in Nantucket. While they both fight for it, they slowly fall in love and spend the night together. 

Oliver Rose reads a paper in bed with Barbara looking annoyed

As time goes on, they have two loving kids that Barbara spoils with sweets and Oliver begins to grow distant, to focus on his law career. However, he still makes time to be a family man, though the love that binds this family together is starting to crack. Then comes the house. Barbara finds a mansion whose owner has just died and the family is too overcome with grief to keep it. Once she purchases the house, the Roses have reached elite status in the social hierarchy. 

Barbara uses her eye for gorgeous antiquities to decorate the house and raise the children, while Oliver toils away to provide for them. As time goes on, Barbara starts a small catering business through which she is renowned for her pâté. Soon enough, once the kids grow up, Barbara begins to find that the bulk of her time is spent with Oliver. Now she helps to entertain his clients and their friends but has nothing else to do with her time. 

Not long after this, while lying in bed with Oliver, reminiscing on another evening of wining and dining clients, Barbara begins to get real with Oliver. She tells him about how she finds his business laugh intolerable and that she cannot stand how important he has to appear. He shrugs it off, slowly making digs at her for telling stories about her life, growing up poor with her parents. 

Things further deteriorate between both of them after Oliver has a heart attack and Barbara feels glad to think he would have died. While he is in the hospital, Oliver writes her a touching note that expresses his feelings of how much he loves her. But, once he returns home, he finds that Barbara wants a divorce because she no longer loves him. He is in denial about it but he is unable to change her mind. 

Barbara and Oliver Rose wave bye to their kids as they give the illusion of happiness.

After the confrontation, he goes to visit his friend, fellow attorney, and the movie’s narrator, Gavin D’Amato, played by Danny DeVito. He consults him and finds a legal loophole that allows Oliver to remain in the house as the divorce proceeding is going on. However, her deep hatred of him slowly drives them further and further apart. Oliver begins to take revenge on Barbara during a dinner party she is holding for her clients and a newspaper food critic. He leaves a used handkerchief in one of the dishes and then proceeds to “piss on the fish.” This leads to the first violent fight between the two in which Barbara hits Oliver with a pot from at least 10 feet away. 

Like a proper fight, they take things outside where she attempts to run him over with her oversized truck. Barbara backs his car into a brick planter base. Then she runs over the car, with Oliver trapped inside. Though he manages to survive, the war is on, with the kids being the only thing off-limits. After explaining what has been going on while their kids visit, but try to assure them things won’t be too bad once the kids go back to school. But, as the film has shown, things will only get worse for the Roses.  

After a small accident, while going out one night, Oliver accidentally backs over Barbara’s cat and kills it. She retaliates by making Oliver’s dog into pate – or so he thinks. This leads to the greatest fight where Oliver boards up the windows and doors to keep her from escaping from the house. In an attempt to kill him, she loosens the chandelier to kill him but he finds her before she can finish. Instead, they fight down the stairs which leads Barbara to find herself dangling from the chandelier. Oliver, in an attempt to save her, ends up joining her. 

Barbara and Oliver hang dangerously on an insecure chandelier

Not long after, Barbara remembers what she did despite Oliver’s reassurance that the cables holding the chandelier together can hold their weight. However, the wires snap and plunge them to the floor. In their dying breaths, Oliver reaches out to hold the woman he loves but Barbara pushes him away. The story ends with Gavin, who has been telling this story to a client looking to divorce his wife, there are two ways out. First is to go through with the painful mess that is divorce or work things out with his wife the best they can. The client decides to go with the second option as Gavin gathers his things to go home from his office.

The War of the Roses is a true testament to the genre of dark comedy as well as Danny DeVito’s directorial style. He takes viewers into the dark corners of life that are contorted caricatures of societal norms. DeVito uses magnificent sets and neutral tones of color that absorb the emotions put into them. The illusion of perfection due to the wealth and power of the Rose family perfectly offset the macabre situation they end up in. One of the great lessons of the film is that love is not always going to be what you expect it and that sometimes things will come to an end. However, much like the message Gavin tries to convey to his client, in the end, it can be best to try and part on amicable terms before things get too nasty. This is a timeless classic that remains a gem in Danny DeVito’s collection.

Barbara, Gavin and Oliver standing in front of the home of The Roses.

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Written by Edwin J. Viera

I live in a pocket of New York's Finger Lakes Region called Ithaca. I am a reporter for the Ithaca Times and an avid player of Pokemon Go when I'm not out reporting. I have an affinity for sitcoms and love to laugh out loud, even when a show is pretty bad. Cause sometimes, you just gotta laugh.

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