“The War of the Roses is a clever look at the breakup of a marriage…. Both frightening and revealing.” – Washington Star
The War of the Roses has emerged over time as a synonym for modern divorce and its emotional aftershock. Since its publication it has spawned numerous film and stage adaptations, endless discourse on the dynamics of divorce as well as becoming part of the legal jargon describing the proceedings that follow.
Adler’s iconic tale takes us from suburban bliss to an deadly territorial battle. Jonathan and Barbara Rose are at first glance the perfect couple. Jonathan has a stable law career; Barbara is an aspiring gourmet entrepreneur with a promising pâté recipe. Their large home holds the rich antique collection that originally brought them together, as well as the loving familial bond that intertwines them with their children Eve and Josh. When Jonathan finds himself suddenly gripped by what is presumably a heart attack and Barbara confronts the loveless spell lingering between them, the sun-soaked sky that was once the Rose family union drifts into a torrential downpour. Their mutual hatred becomes ammunition in a domestic warfare that escalates in the most unpredictable ways while they helplessly eye their dwindling nuptial flame. In the chaos that unfolds Adler allows a moment of much needed contemplation on the shape of today’s matrimonial bonds.
The War of the Roses illuminates the relationship-shattering materialism, contempt and selfishness of husband and wife by posing a timeless question, how far are we willing to allow our material possessions the power to define who we are? Are today’s marriages haunted by the struggle to get even?
Quotes about the book
“Tight, unique, intimate novel… Often funny, frequently disquieting, this is… fascinating and unusual.” – West Coast Review of Books
“Adler is… a fiercely practical writer. His narrative style is tight and controlled. There is virtually no extraneous material evident in War of the Roses.” – UCLA The Daily Bruin
“The War of the Roses is a clever look at the breakup of a marriage… It is Adler’s achievement that he makes the most bizarre actions of each (party) seem logical under the circumstances…. Both frightening and revealing.” – Washington Star
“Warren Adler writes with skill and a sense of scene.” – The New York Times Book Review
“Warren Adler surveys the terrain (of marital strife) with mordant wit. This accomplished tale… builds to a baleful yet all-too-believable climax.” – Cosmopolitan
“A very, very funny novel.” – Pat O’Haire, New York Daily News
“This book is a dazzler, the wildest, most outrageous, most macabre comedic book we’ve read in years.” – Richard Zanuck and David Brown
Quotes about the movie
“A devastatingly funny black comedy! Michael Douglass and Kathleen Turner contribute superbly crafted performances…DeVito here stakes a claim to be considered among the talented filmmakers of his generation” – Jack Garner Gannett News Service
“The War of the Roses is a brave comedy…It snarls in your memory long after it’s over. Douglas, Turner and DeVito worked together twice before, but never so well…This may be the most finely detailed performance Douglas has given.” – David Ansen Newsweek
“Sharpen your pitchforks. The War of the Roses is devilishly funny! It’s the most wickedly-delightful screwball comedy in years.” – Jeffrey Lyons Sneak Previews
“What is wonderful about The War of the Roses is that the filmmakers are no more willing to compromise their black comic vision of marriage, than the Roses are willing to settle their differences…it sustains our horrified interests and keeps us laughing…” – Richard Shichel Time Magazine
“Oliver and Barbara Rose’s hilarious fights – room to room and wall to wall – will floor you…Danny DeVito matches his winning performance with a slick directing job, complete with a surprise ending. The Roses grow on you – and they turn The War of the Roses into a blooming hit.” – Gene Shalit Today NBC TV
“Wicked, wild, wacky and wonderful!” – Rex Reed At the Movies
“The War of the Roses is good, clean, dirty fun, and a winner! The film has refreshing wit, continuous comic surprises, and nifty performances by Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner!” – Stuart Klein WNYW TV New York
“The War of the Roses is original and hilarious! Be prepared for something completely different! It is darkly funny, offbeat and another triumph for director Danny DeVito.” – Pat Collins, WOR TV New York
” This is the year’s best romantic comedy.” – Mike Clark USA Today
“Two enthusiastic thumbs up, The War of the Roses is an uncompromising good film.” – Siskel & Ebert
“I loved it. Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas are a scream…Danny DeVito’s acting and direction are dynamite!” – Dixie Whatley, At the Movies
Boston Herald by James Verniere
Battle of sexes is now ‘War’
In Danny DeVito’s The War of the Roses, the battle of the sexes goes nuclear. The film, which opens today, is a pre-emptive strike right at the heart of America’s second most favorite thing (the first being the flag).
It pulverizes the American family.
Not content to take on one sacred cow, DeVito also takes a vicious poke at the Reagan-Bush era’s favorite past-time: unrestrained consumerism. The thesis of The War of the Roses is that the American family is a dodo that won’t fly anymore because it’s been weighted down by Saabs, Volvos, Broncos, condos, and the philosophical dross preached in consumerist manifestos like “Architectural Digest” and “House and Garden.” No current film takes as bleak and hilarious a look at marriage and materialism at the dawning of the so-called “We Decade,” and no film will generate as much heated argument.
As a result, The War of the Roses will be a great date film, and it’s the perfect antidote to brain-numbing, feel-good potions like “Dad” and “Steel Magnolias.” It’s “Kramer vs. Kramer” as opera buffa or-better yet-“Apocalypse Now” meets “Divorce Court.” Wear your body armor, the battle lines have been drawn up at your local theaters.
Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner – who’ve honed their act to razor sharpness in “Romancing the Stone” and “Jewel of the Nile”-play Oliver and Barbara Rose, a “fortysomething,” upper-middle class couple with two college-age kids, a beautiful house full of Oliver’s rare Victorian porcelains, and 17 years of pent-up anger and frustration about to topple down on them.
Oliver’s a successful attorney who’s sacrificed his relationship with his family at the altar of personal ambition. He’s the kind of guy who silently rehearses what he’s going to say to a client the next day when he’s having dinner with his wife. Barbara is Oliver’s perfect partner and helpmate, a slim, attractive woman with good taste and a religious zeal to make their home the perfect earthly habitat. After raising their children and designing their home, Barbara goes on to find fulfillment and independence as a successful caterer.
All is well, until one day when Turner wakes up, looks at the bush-league Gordon Gekko who calls himself her husband and realizes that all she really wants to do is “smash his face in.” Douglas is dumbstruck. How can she want a divorce? He’s the father of her children, the man who paid the mortgage, the bright law student who made a name for himself, all for her!
In other words, poor Douglas doesn’t have a clue because all he can do is enumerate the material things he’s accumulated over the years. Turner, for her part, is as tongue-tied when it comes to explaining her fuming, newly-found loathing.
The result is war. Inspired by a friend and colleague (Danny DeVito as the divorce lawyer who narrates the film), Douglas learns he doesn’t have to leave the house just because his wife is divorcing him. He and Turner divide the space between them and proceed to dismantle their marriage from the inside out. Douglas turns out to be one of those husbands who’d rather chainsaw his home in two than go through the ignominy of a “civilized divorce.” Turner is his female match.
Before long, Victorian porcelains are sailing through the air. The Jenn-Air oven is smashed into blacking, smoking bits. One pet is flattened under a Michelin. Another is (ostensibly) turned into pate. The halls are decked (Did I mention that the setting is Christmas?) with barricades made from varnished hardwood floors and redwood planks wrenched from the basement sauna. War whoops resound. Blood is spilled.
It’s no surprise DeVito-who makes a quantum leap into the ranks of top directors with this film-shows Turner and Douglas first meeting in the film’s opening at an auction on Nantucket (actually shot on an island off the coast of Washington). Even as college students, the Roses were fledgling acquirers. And while the film seems tilted in Oliver Rose’s favor (Barbara’s shoe collection is a cheap shot), many – particularly women – will be cheering for his spouse.
In the title roles, Douglas and Turner are so good, so finely attuned, that they may indeed be the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn of the ’90s. DeVito, whose previous effort was the deliciously title, Hitchcock homage, “Throw Momma From the Train,” displays a ferocious talent for angry dialogue, domestic mayhem and operatic camera flourishes.
He’s Woody Allen with pesto, a demolition artist who looks at the world and always sees something worth smashing.
The Salt Lake Tribune by Terry Orme
Novelist pleased with ‘War of the Roses’
So, what’s a nice guy like Warren Adler doing writing novels like The War of the Roses?
After all, Adler has been happily married for 30 years, and his book – now a movie as well – is a very dark comedy about the ugliest divorce imaginable.
As he explained over the phone the other day, his antenna for material is always up. “And my fantasy life is very active,” he said.
The War of the Roses chronicles the marriage and divorce of Barbara and Oliver Rose – played by Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas in the film version. Oliver is a successful Washington, D.C., attorney. Barbara is a housewife who has spent much of their marriage creating a palace fit for a young affluent couple.
While eating a business lunch with a client one day, Oliver mistakes indigestion for a heart attack. He’s rushed to the hospital, his wife is summoned. However, she never arrives at his side, because when Barbara hears the news of Oliver’s possible demise, she experiences a strange emotion-elation.
Barbara and Oliver Rose have come to love the things in their lives – their cars, their objets d’art and their house – more than they love each other. Deciding to divorce, they find that they can live without each other, but not without the material things they have accrued during their life together. So they divide the house: she has her rooms, her space; he has his. A war ensues.
Adler was at a dinner party in Washington – his home for 30 years – when the idea for The War of the Roses struck.
“A guy was dating a friend of mine and we were at this party together when he said that he had to leave. Well, it was still early, and I said, ‘What’s your rush?’ and he said, ‘I’ve got to get home to my wife or she’ll lock me out.’ I thought that was a little strange, here he was dating my friend yet having to get back to his wife. So I said, ‘What’s your story?’ And he said, ‘Well, my lawyer says that if I leave the house I could lose it and the possessions.'”
Adler’s curiosity was tweaked. He asked more questions; he discussed the situation with other people. And he made a surprising discovery: That this story of domestic doom was quite common. And The War of the Roses was born.
Adler isn’t the only person connected with the movie who’s happily married. Turner, Douglas, and DeVito, who directs and plays the attorney who narrates the story – none have been through a divorce.
However, producer James L. Brooks – whose many film credits include directing “Terms of Endearment” and “Broadcast News,” and who, says Adler, is the “guru” behind The War of the Roses – has experienced that ordeal. And executive producer Polly Platt, who first brought the project to Brooks, went through what Adler describes as a “terrible divorce” from director Peter Bogdanovich.
Obviously, Adler’s book had struck a cord. (Or discord…)
“What I tried to do was to take the skin off the people involved and turn the whole situation upside down,” said Adler. “I tried to say, ‘This is what people really think who have gone through a divorce.”
DeVito and Brooks – whose professional relationship goes back to the days of television’s “Taxi” – brought in writer Michael Leeson to adapt the novel for the screen. And Adler, who wrote his own screenplay of the book almost a decade ago, likes the results.
“The best thing a writer can hope for is that they keep the title, which they did; that they keep the ending, which they did; and that the protagonists are like they are in the book, which they are. Now they did make changes, but they were changes not in substance, but in incidents.
Adler is a little surprised, and feels lucky, that the movie retains the dark ending from his book.
“Jim Brooks held firm,” said Adler. “I’m sure they [the studio brass] hit him over the head several times to get him to change it.”
Although he’s pleased with the finished products, Adler was not consulted during the production.
“They paid no attention to me,” he said about the filmmakers. “Which is why I’m so lucky. They hate to deal with the original material, with the blueprint. They think the novelist will defend his work.”
With The War of the Roses in the theaters, Adler has a number of other books in the film production mill. His Random Hearts is being developed by Tri-Star as a vehicle for Dustin Hoffman. A collection of short stories, The Sunset Gang, is planned as a miniseries for PBS’s “American Playhouse.” Madeline’s Miracles is being developed by Warner Bros. for Goldie Hawn. Movie producers have been buying his books since 1976, although The War of the Roses is the first to come to fruition.
“It used to baffle me,” said Adler about Hollywood’s interest in his work. “There are 10,000 novels published a year, and fewer than 25 movies every year are adaptations of novels. But I think the attraction has something to do with the fact that I write very tight books with a single hidden agenda that they can understand. My characters are different. I’m not a mainstream writer. I don’t write best sellers. But for some reason my books have a certain accessibility.
“It’s possible that my work is influenced by my own love of the movies. I might be writing movies in my head. I was a kid who grew up during the heyday of the studios. I know every picture there is. It could be the big influence on me. Who knows?”
The New York Times by Janet Maslin
Barbara and Oliver Rose (Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas) started out as young lovebirds, ready to scrimp and save and struggle their way toward a rosy future. But by the time that future arrive, bringing with it two kids, two pets, two cars and a big house with a lighted, glassed-in shoe closet, they hated each other like poison. Why did this happen? Danny DeVito, who directed and co-stars in The War of the Roses, is hardly one to take the June-moon-spoon view of romances. Mr. DeVito’s opinion, on the evidence of this film and his earlier “Throw Momma From the Train,” that love and rottenness are two sides of a single coin.
And since Mr. DeVito happens to have more of a taste for gleeful malice than any cinematic figure this side of Freddie Krueger (old Needs-a-Manicure, from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies), the Roses don’t limit themselves to empty threats. Once their battle is underway, no holds are barred. The War of the Roses becomes a deliriously mean-spirited free-for-all in which nothing-not the pets, not the shoes, not the cars and certainly not the principals themselves-is sacred. This much should surely be said about The War of the Roses: it promises to take the gloves off, and it delivers.
The film’s outstanding nastiness, which is often diabolically funny until a poorly staged final battle sequence simply takes things too far, has something real and recognizable at it’s core. The Roses may be caricatures, but the rise and fall of their romance and the viciousness of their fighting will be elements that many viewers can understand. One peculiarity: neither of the Roses, once the gauntlet has been thrown down, moves out of the house or bothers to become involved with another partner so that both remain free to concentrate single-mindedly on inflicting connubial misery. This makes the film slightly less believable than it might otherwise be, but it gives it a tighter focus. Mr. DeVito narrates the story of the Roses as he plays Gavin D’Amato, Oliver’s friend and lawyer. Throughout the film, Mr. DeVito is seen telling a silent young client about the Roses’ problems. This looks so much like an extended set-up for a final punch line that it’s surprising when the final payoff never comes. But The War of the Roses is never fully certain just how satirical or serious it means to be.
The film’s tone may be slightly shaky at times, but when it’s humor works, it’s very funny indeed. Mr. Douglas and Ms. Turner have never been more comfortable as a team and each of them is at his or her comic best when being as awful as both are required to be here. Ms. Turner plays Barbara as a blithe, breezy college girl whose streak of spontaneity evolves into something a lot scarier as she grows ever more disgusted with Oliver. Mr. Douglas, who continues to be a great comedic embodiment of pure overweening ambition, makes Oliver the kind of self-congratulatory careerist who never notices his wife’s disaffection until she fails to show up at the hospital on the day when he thinks he’s dying. His little mishap, Barbara later tells Oliver dreamily, really took her by surprise. She had no idea she’d be so happy at the thought of finally getting rid of him.
Among the film’s funnier images is one of Oliver holed up in his bedroom, surrounded by dozens of his beloved Straffordshire figurines he thinks Barbara might try to break, once the orgy of antique-bashing and general house-wrecking is under way. Among its more extreme acts are Oliver’s doing his utmost to wreck one of Barbara’s dinner parties, Barbara’s barricading Oliver in the sauna, a sexual interlude to end all sexual interludes and the events leading up to the death of a pet. The film becomes merrily vulgar at some of these moments, but it seldom loses its sense of humor.
In addition to Mr. Douglas and Ms. Turner, both of whom are evilly enchanting, and Mr. DeVito, a welcome presence even in his master of ceremonies capacity, the film also features the German actress Marianne Sagebrecht (of “Baghdad Café” and “Sugarbaby”) as the plump, patient housekeeper who is privy to the Roses’ worse moments. Mr. DeVito’s discretion is distinctively odd (with a lot of low-angle shots looking up at things), enjoyably mindful that there may be, at the heart of all this comic mayhem, something substantial going on.
USA Today by Jeanne Williams
A garden of praise for darkly funny ‘Roses’
High points of The War of the Roses, newest teaming of Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas, are Danny DeVito’s startling camera angles, the very, very nasty tricks the couple pull on each other – and the ending, which so far everybody is trying not to give away.
It’s a movie for everybody who ever got divorced, or thought about it. And that’s a lot of rotten rice. “Danny’s bouquet to divorce,” Billy Crystal calls it.
We won’t tell the ending, either-but it’s one not everybody will love. At Monday’s L.A. premiere, Jane Seymour said, “There were some amazing performances in it, and some very funny moments, but I didn’t find it too funny near the end.”
Roses – which arrives in theaters Friday – does have some huge laughs, and you’ll wince too as, for example, Turner runs over Douglas’ cherished convertible roadster with her four-wheel-drive vehicle. DeVito, who co-stars as the narrator/lawyer as well as directs, saw lots of his old Taxi pals at the opening. Jeff Conaway said, “If you’ve ever worked with Danny, you know how all of a sudden his eyes go and you know something’s coming up. The angles he used were wonderful. It’s his demented kind of mind, you know.”
The party wasn’t demented but elegant, with guests entering a re-creation of the foyer of the house in the movie, with curving staircases and an all-important chandelier. Turner, in short black dress and spiky heels, left earlyish, while Douglas charmed the room as usual.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was being protective of wife Maria Shriver, whose baby is due practically as you read this. “Can’t you see what’s going on here?” he said, pointing to his heir-to-be.
It took 10 years for novelist Warren Adler to see The War of the Roses make it to the screen. He visited the set and says of the three stars, “It’s as if they were reading each other’s minds. Each person seemed to know what they were going to do. They know each other so well.”
Tonight War opens in New York, with a guest list including Glenn Close, Robert De Niro, Aidan Quinn.
W by Steve Ginsburg
Warren Adler’s Hollywood ‘War’
Novelist Warren Adler has written 15 books, none of them bestsellers. But he’s still been given a chance to go Hollywood. Producers have paid handsomely for five of his books, including The War of the Roses, made into a movie at Twentieth Century Fox, directed by Danny DeVito and with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas.
“I have become somewhat fashionable in Hollywood, and I intend to capitalize on it,” Adler says over breakfast in the Polo Lounge. “The whole purpose of these movie deals is to get more people to read my books. With a movie, the best a novelist can ask for is that they keep the title and the ending. Overall, they kept my vision with The War of the Roses.”
It’s taken seven years for The War of the Roses, first published in 1981 by Warner Books, to reach the screen. The novel deals with a messy divorce – caused by greed – that turns violent. Hollywood, never known for its long-running marriages, was both fascinated and frightened by the book, according to Adler.
It was Richard Zanuck who originally bought the book.
“Dick liked it primarily because he had gone through some terrible divorces,” Adler says bluntly, “but it was just lying in limbo for a few years. Then somebody at Twentieth Century Fox found the script and gave it to Polly Platt, who went through a horrendous divorce with Peter Bogdanovich, which she still seethes over today. She saw truth encapsulated in this book, and she gave it to Jim Brooks, who had also gone through a divorce that was probably not too pleasant. Brooks acquired the book five years ago and took three options on it before making it.”
Danny DeVito has made Roses into a black comedy. In it, Turner and Douglas, playing the Roses, battle over who gets custody of the house. The original story, Adler says, was based on the experiences of a friend who, though he was divorcing his wife, was still living at home because he feared their shared collection of antiques and other possessions might disappear.
Adler himself, at age 60, has been married for over 30 years and has three sons, but says, “The key to my marriage has been my fantasizing about divorce through my novels. I can get rid of all my frustrations that way.”
He graduated from New York University at 19, hired a literary agent and planned to write novels. But at 22, he married and went to work for a series of New York newspapers. Later he moved to Washington, where he owned an advertising agency, a public-relations firm and became publisher of the Washington Dossier. In his 40s Adler finally wrote his first novel, Undertow, published in 1974. He now averages two books a year.
“I don’t write the normal cliché blockbuster,” Adler claims. “I never write in the same genre, and I don’t like to write the same novel over and over again. That’s boring, but many writers have established themselves that way. When you pick up a Michener, a Ludlum, a Danielle Steele or Sidney Sheldon, you know what you’re going to get.”
Seven days a week, Adler rises at six, takes a walk, reads The New York Times and then writes for four hours. Recently he’s spent most afternoons in the Santa Monica Library, where he reads The New York Times’ 1937 editions, preparing for his next book, which will be about Murder Inc. in the Catskills during that period.
Adler’s first book sold to a filmmaker – Sir Lew Grade – was Trans-Siberian Express, about a love affair on a train traveling between Moscow and Vladivostok. Random Hearts, published in 1984, was bought by Tri-Star. Madeline’s Miracles, about New Age psychics, was acquired by Warner Brothers, which is making it into a Goldie Hawn vehicle. The Sunset Gang, a collection of Adler’s short stories about senior citizens in Florida, will air next spring in the form of a three-night mini-series on the PBS series, “American Playhouse.” An Adler book now goes for as much as $1 million.
Unlike many writers, Adler seems to have a certain admiration for Hollywood. “The studio execs at the top want money, but they also want to make good quality moves,” he says. “Somewhere along the line, popularity and art cross, and Hollywood does this better than anyone. When this civilization is dead-and it’s declining rapidly-this society will be remembered for Hollywood because of its impact on the world. You go anywhere in this world, in the tiniest hamlets in Indonesia, and they know who Danny DeVito is.
“Hollywood is the best promoter in the world-and we have become so celebrity-oriented. Look at any magazine rack in town. Writers aren’t on the covers, only movie stars. Do you know how many movie stars are on psychiatrists’ couches in this town asking, ‘Do I deserve all this attention?’ I’ll bet every moment of Marilyn Monroe’s life she asked herself, ‘What did I do?’ From a psychological point of view, stardom is a curse.”
Bu he does fear the fallout from the fact that foreign companies are rapidly buying up the studios. “American films have a global scope,” he says. “But when new owners like Sony acquire a major studio like Columbia, I worry about the freedom Jon Peters and Peter Guber will have to make a pointed film about Japan.”
by Roger Ebert
‘War of the Roses’ treads close to the edge of humor
The first and last shots of The War of the Roses show us a divorce attorney with a tragic tale to tell. He informs a client that there will be no charge. “I get paid $450 an hour to talk to people,” he says, “and so when I offer to tell you something for free, I advise you listen carefully.”
He wants to tell the story of a couple of clients of his, Oliver and Barbara Rose, who were happy, and then got involved in a divorce, and were never happy again.
The attorney is played by Danny DeVito, who also directed The War of the Roses, and although I usually dislike devices in which a narrator thinks back over the progress of a long, cautionary tale, this time I think it works. It works because we must never be allowed to believe, even for a moment, that Oliver and Barbara are going to get away with their happiness. The lawyer’s less on is that happiness has nothing to do with it, anyway. He doubts that any marriage is destined to be happy (of course, as a divorce lawyer, he has a particular slant on the subject). His lesson is more brutal: “Divorce is survivable.” If only the Roses had listened.
The movie stars Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as the doomed Roses, and although both actors also teamed with DeVito in “Romancing the Stone,” no two movies could be more dissimilar. The War of the Roses is a black, angry, bitter, unrelenting comedy, a war between the sexes that makes James Thurber’s work on the same subject almost resigned by comparison.
And yet, the Roses fell so naturally and easily into love, in those first sunny days so long ago. They met at an auction, bidding on the same cheap figurine, and by the evening they were in each other’s arms. (“If this relationship lasts,” Barbara muses, “this will have been the most romantic moment of my life. If it doesn’t, I’m a complete slut.”)
He went into law. She went into housekeeping. They were both great at their work. Oliver made a lot of money, and Barbara spent a lot of money, buying, furnishing and decorating a house that looks like just about the best home money can buy. Meanwhile, a couple of children, one of each sex, grow up and leave home, and then Barbara decides she wants something more in life than the curatorship of her own domestic museum. One day she sells a pound of her famous liver pate to a friend and realizes that she holds in her hand the first money she has actually earned for herself in 17 years. It feels good.
She asks for a divorce. She wants to keep the house.
This is the beginning of the war. There have been battles of the sexes before in the movies – between Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, between George C. Scott and Faye Dunaway, between Mickey and Minnie – but never one this vicious. I wonder if the movie doesn’t go over the top. The war between the Roses begins in a lawyer’s office and escalates into a violent, bloody conflict that finally finds them both barricaded inside their house beautiful, doing battle with the very symbols of their marriage: the figurines, the gourmet kitchen range, the chandelier.
There are a great many funny moments in The War of the Roses, including one in which Turner (playing an ex-gymnast) springs to her feet from a prone position on her lawyers floor in one lithe moment and another in which Douglas makes absolutely certain that the fish Turner is serving some of her clients for dinner will have that fishy smell. But the movie treads a dangerous line. There are times when its ferocity threatens to break through the boundaries of comedy – to become so unremitting we find we cannot laugh.
It’s to the credit of DeVito and his co-stars that they were willing to go that far, but maybe it shows more courage than wisdom. This is an odd, strange movie and the only one I can remember in which the moral is, “Rather than see a divorce lawyer, be generous – generous to the point of night sweats.”
by Desson Howe
War of the Roses Connubial Blitz
In The War of the Roses, Danny DeVito’s deliciously jaundiced perspective on matrimony (and its apparently imminent sequel, divorce), Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas go head-to-head in the most brutal husband-wife encounter since axe-wielding Jack Nicholson yelled “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” to Shelley Duvall in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”
The menace here, however, is closer to “The Road Runner” than “redrum,” and this couple is far more evenly matched. Douglas, you may remember, strangled Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” and trod on the necks of financial wimps in “Wall Street,” while Turner hounded husbands to death in “The Man with Two Brains” or just offed them in “Body Heat” and “Prizzi’s Honor.”
In this third coming together (after “Romancing the Stone” and “The Jewel of the Nile”), they make the malignant equivalent of beautiful music. Turner’s a superb comedian who, as Barbara Rose, variously plays sweet wife, sarcastic assassin and murderous vixen; and Douglas, as Oliver Rose, perfectly embodies the angry desperation of a yuppie male with his back against the nuptial wall.
This war of the spouses (featuring DeVito as Douglas’s divorce lawyer and the movie’s onscreen narrator), starts as a storybook, erotic romance: “Never, never apologize for being multi-orgasmic,” gasps Douglas after their initial, rain-soaked encounter. But it soon escalates into an emotional war of attribution. She can’t stand his laugh. He can’t stand her storytelling. They get fat children.
It won’t be long before Turner is driving her enormous pickup over Douglas’s prize vintage car (with her husband sitting in it) and Douglas is sawing the heels from her shoes.
“There’s no winning in this,” attorney DeVito admonishes Douglas. “It’s only degrees of losing.”
Director DeVito, whose macabre sense of humor gave his otherwise derailed directing debut “Throw Momma from the Train” its share of moments, brings his dark impulses to bear here.
In this he’s well-supported by cinematographer Stephen H. Burum, whose wacky perspectives and purposeful garishness set the grim tone perfectly and script-writer Michael Leeson (adapting Warren Adler’s novel), who creates a world of marital bleakness not only inside but also outside: When Douglas is rushed to hospital for a suspected heart attack, he finds himself lying next to a huge man holding a bloody bandage against his chest. “My wife stabbed me in the stomach,” says the patient with alarming resignation. “With a nail file this time. She’s training to be a manicurist.”
by Bob Strauss
Turner, Douglas and DeVito clash on the battleground of matrimony
Los Angeles – Those who know and love him agree: Danny DeVito is one sick puppy.
“You know, Danny’s very sick,” said Kathleen Turner, lowering her husky voice to an atypical, conspiratorial hush. She’d just finished acting for DeVito in his second feature film directing effort, The War of the Roses. The film, which will open Friday nationwide, reunites the Douglas-Turner-DeVito team of “Romancing the Stone” (1984) and “The Jewel of the Nile” (1985). “He never pulled us back. He continually pushed us to see how far we’d go.”
“He’s a dark son of a b—-,” confirmed Michael Douglas, who roomed with DeVito in the late 1960’s and who as a producer hired him for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) and “Stone/Jewel.” “He’s always been dangerous. He’s the craziest driver I’ve ever been with. He’s always liked to take risks.”
The War of the Roses, based on Michael Leeson’s screenplay of Warren Adler’s novel, is a riskier proposition than even DeVito’s feature directing debut, “Throw Momma From the Train” (1987). Turner and Douglas are Barbara and Oliver Rose, the ultimate yuppie couple: He’s a successful D.C. attorney; she’s a housewife who turns their handsome suburban residence into a perfectly furnished showplace. After 18 years of marriage, Barbara somewhat abruptly realizes that she does not love Oliver anymore.
They agree to divorce, but there’s one irreconcilable difference: Both want the house. Oliver refuses to leave; Barbara will not back down. In the ensuing conflict, just about everything they own gets broken. Finally, the only objects left to break are each other.
DeVito plays Oliver’s partner and divorce lawyer Gavin D’Amato, who narrates the sad tale of the Roses to a potential client. What the Roses do to each other gets so nasty and stupid- so sick – that it will either save numerous rock marriages or send the divorce rate soaring.
Famous for his portrayals of angry, boss-from-hell Louie DePalma on the “Taxi” TV series and the curmudgeonly creeps in the movies “Wise Guys” (1986) “Ruthless People” (1986), “Tin Men” (1897), and last year’s megahit “Twins,” DeVito also is known in Hollywood for his unpretentious cheerfulness and model marriage to “Cheers” regular Rhea Pearlman. Why, then, does he insist on making movies about brutalizing ones wife or killing one’s mother?
“How’d I get this way?” New Jersey native DeVito asked rhetorically. “Here’s the thing. I went to Our Lady of Mount Carmel grammar school. It was a Catholic school. I think the nuns beat me up so much that every time I see a woman now, I see her in a habit. I just want to throw her downstairs or throw her off a train. You know what I’m saying?”
While he may joke about his creative inclinations, DeVito takes the work of making movies extremely seriously. He has been fooling around with cameras for decades – since he and Douglas were struggling New York acting students, in fact. Before moving on to features, DeVito directed several episodes of “Taxi,” other TV shows, the award-winning short “Minestrone” and a cable TV movie co-starring himself and Perlman, “The Ratings Game.” Unlike many other actors-turned-directors, DeVito pays great attention to visual style, often retaking complex crane and Stedicam shots for different subjective and lighting effects.
Such craftsmanlike perfectionism endears DeVito the director to his performer friends. “I like Danny better as an actor; he’s much nicer,” Turner said. “He’s a real little tyrant. Very bossy, tells you, ‘Just do it, babe.’ There were a few days when I really thought I was never going to speak to him again. Except the fact is, of course, that he was right all of the time.”
“He has this incredible vision,” Douglas said. “I had never worked with a director who had such a clear picture, cinematically, of what he wanted. Now, I could have killed him half a dozen times in terms of trying to get this thing to match exactly what he saw in his mind.”
The worst scene, Turner and Douglas agreed, involved the climactic moment in which the warring Roses hang from a crystal chandelier 45 feet above their foyer. “I was really scared,” said Turner, who dangled off 1,000-foot cliffs in “Romancing the Stone.”
Douglas considered the five days of chandelier shots DeVito’s revenge for the “Stone/Jewel” movies. “He’d look up at me and say, ‘Remember that mud in Mexico? Remember that donkey in Morocco you made me sit under in “Jewel”? It’s payback time, sport!'”
Truth to tell, though, Douglas and Turner were just as up for the sicker aspects of “War of the Roses” as their director was. Turner has alternated likable, star making turns in films such as “Peggy Sue got Married” (1987) and last year’s “The Accidental Tourist” with more femme fataleish characters in the likes of “Body Heat” (her film debut in 1981), “Crimes of Passion” (1984), “Prizzi’s Honor” (1985) and even “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (she supplied the voice of Roger’s sex-pot wife, Jessica). Although happily married to real estate developer Jay Weiss, Turner found Barbara Rose an admirably vile, fascinating character.
“Barbara is incredibly forceful,” she said, “She has this lovely quality of single-mindedness in which she really doesn’t even consider her effect on someone else. She doesn’t care; she’s quite determined to do just what she intends to do. Which is rather enviable, in a way, although incredibly destructive. I wouldn’t like to be like that, but I do find myself envying a little bit that she can act so freely.”
Even if they are not the most audience pleasing, Turner hopes more roles as challenging as Barbara come her way. “If you’ve found a character that you play well and you’ve played it over and over, it would get very thin,” she said. “I mean, how many variations can you find on an essential trait? SO you’ve got to do other things or you get boring and bored.”
A righteous good guy in his early work on the TV series “The Streets of San Francisco” and films ranging from “Summertree” to “The China Syndrome,” Douglas recently has received the best notices of his career for three more ambivalent, darker roles: the philandering husband in “Fatal Attraction,” the cynical cop in “Black Rain” and the amoral corporate raider in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” (for which Douglas won a best actor Oscar). Also happily married (to wife Diandra for 12 years), he was attracted to “Roses” for both its black special satire and its wicked personal drama.
“It’s appropriate that this picture should be ending the 80’s,” Douglas said. “It really, to me, is what the decade was all about in terms of materialistic gains and working so hard. This guy (Oliver) did everything he thought was right, at least with his yuppie mentality. This house became his image; it was his pyramid. But he didn’t take any time to nurture his relationship or develop other sides.
“Barbara, too. Her role was to create it. And when it was done, she didn’t know what to do with herself. That happens, then all of a sudden, you wake up one day and realize just how much hostility you have for each other.”
To prevent the story’s animosity from impacting on their own good friendships, Turner, Douglas and DeVito made sure they ended each day of shooting with hugs all around. It seemed to work; the look forward to making a fourth, a fifth and many more movies together. “Michael and I have a real complementary sense of each other,” Turner said. “I feel very safe with him, but not dull, set or contented.”
“We both have a sense of looking out for the other person,” Douglas added. “I realize that if she is good, I will be good. A lot of actors compete and don’t realize that. We try to encourage and help each other. And you’re protective of that – like a marriage.”
As for that sicko Danny, Douglas feels as much affection for him now as he did when they first became pals. “We’ve always just treated each other for what we were worth,” he said. “He has that kind of personality that never makes you think about his height, and he always made me feel real comfortable by not dealing with me as Kirk Douglas’ son. He didn’t give a s—, and I was appreciative.
“Now look at us. We’re the same age . He’s directing a big movie, he’s got Jim Brooks producing. That part of working with him was just a joy. I love the guy. And it’s nice to go to work in the morning and be able to goose the director first thing.”
For his part, DeVito claimed his intentions were positive, not perverse. “I see ['Roses'] as a cautionary story,” he said. “What I say in the picture is that it’s OK to have a partnership and accumulate a lot of things and have your nose to the grindstone. I know about that. But you have to look up every once in a while and make sure things are working, see if you two can remind yourselves why you’re there in the first place.
“What I’m trying to do first is entertain the audience. In terms of what emotions they’re going to feel on the way out- there are going to be a lot of confusing things going on. When you walk out with your man or your woman, you’re going to be chatting away about this picture. The greatest thing will be if you’re questioning.”
Regardless of what anybody says about him, DeVito is not yet ready to seriously question the state of his own emotional health. “I know there are lots of things inside me, left over from my childhood and whatnot,” he said. “Maybe this is some way I’m working it out, making these dark comedies. Someday, I’m going to just lay down on a sofa and pay somebody a lot of money to figure this all out.”
New York Magazine by Warren Berger
Spoils of War
While throwing a business Christmas party in Washington, D.C., ten years ago, Warren Adler met a high-powered lawyer who was in the midst of a particularly messy divorce. The worst part: Neither the lawyer nor the wife turned mortal enemy would move out of the house. “I asked him, ‘Why stay in the house?'” Adler recalls. “He said, ‘To protect my possessions.'”
Adler went home and spent four months writing a novel about that conversation. The War of the Roses was published in 1981 and finally made it to the big screen last week, with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as the battling couple.
For the 61-year-old Adler, born and raised in Brooklyn, War is just the beginning of high times in Hollywood. Random Hearts, another Adler book, is in the production pipeline at Tri-Star. Madeline’s Miracles, Adler’s most recent novel, as been optioned by Warner Bros. As a vehicle for Goldie Hawn. And The Sunset Gang, a collection of short stories, will be filmed this spring for PBS’s American Playhouse series.
“I wish I could explain why all this is happening to me now, but I can’t,” says Adler, an easygoing former copyboy at the Daily News who moved to Washington in the mid-fifties. For twenty years, he’d rise at dawn and write fiction before going to work at his advertising-and-public-relations agency. In 1975, Adler gave up P.R. and, with his wife as publisher and son as editor, successfully launched a magazine, Washington Dossier. Adler then got serious about writing, giving up day work to churn out everything from murder mysteries to romantic comedies.
These days, Adler divides his time between his Manhattan apartment and a home in Beverly Hills.
“Producers are calling me on the phone; I’ve had meetings with people like Dustin Hoffman – it’s really quite remarkable,” Adler says. “It seems that the issues and relationships in by books are very much in tune with the times right now.”
He continues to rise at dawn to write, and is now working on his sixteenth book (he’s already fielding inquiries about the unfinished project from top producers, he says). Adler seems unfazed by his overnight Hollywood popularity. “Maybe if it happened 25 years ago, getting into the movies would have been more of a thrill,” he says. “Now I tend to see it as an opportunity to get my name in front of more people – who will, with any luck, go back and read my old books.” Seeing his name on the screen is fine, but Adler would rather see it on a best-seller list. “I haven’t had one of those yet,” he says, ” and I think it’s about time.”
For real-life divorce veterans, War Of The Roses is a documentary
In this winter’s most controversial comedy, Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas play estranged spouses who battle over their belongings. Though some think the movie goes too far, many couples find that splitting up is easier than splitting up the goods.
What began as the exuberant union of two college age strivers is coming to a devastating end after 18 years, the Gotterdammerung is being fought out not in court but inside the couple’s perfect house. Rather than divvy up the spoils, Oliver and Barbara Rose (he a lawyer, and she, a caterer) are conducting guerrilla raids on one another’s possessions. He runs over her cat; she locks him in his sauna. He stumbles mock-drunkenly into a dinner for her best clients and relieves himself on the poached bass. She chases him in her customized GM Jimmy when he tries to flee in his Morgan; after she crushes his cherished car, he climbs out and declares, “All right, the gloves are off.”
As portrayed by Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in The War of the Roses, Oliver and Barbara are an obsessive pair who are all too recognizable. “A lot of people who have been through divorce know what they’re talking about,” says director Danny DeVito (who also plays Oliver’s lawyer). “Divorce can be very, very funny – but very, very dark.” Although he doesn’t speak from personal experience – neither DeVito nor Douglas nor Turner has been divorced – the film stands as a cautionary tale for our competitive times. Since its December release, it has grossed more than $75 million, and it is still pulling crowds in 1,432 theaters across the country.
While few divorces approach the movie’s intensity, the Roses’ situation – living together but apart – isn’t unique. L.A. Law’s Harry Hamlin and wife Laura Johnson (formerly of Falcon Crest) have been sharing the same Coldwater Canyon house since Hamlin filed for divorce last September. Johnny Carson sidekick Ed McMahon and estranged wife Victoria lived in separate wings of their Bel Air home for several months after they made their decision to part, and daughter Katherine Mary, 4, was shuttled between the two.
A less celebrated couple provided the inspiration for The War of the Roses, which is based on a novel by Warren Adler. In 1979 Adler had a cocktail-party encounter with a wealthy Washington, D.C., man who was going through a bitter breakup. Explaining that his lawyer had advised him to stay in their house to watch his property, the man outlined an arrangement that sounded ludicrous: He and his wife put locks on the doors of their bedrooms, divided the refrigerator and agreed to use the washing machine at different times. “It was a horror,” says Adler. “I knew I had something.”
Although the screen rights to the novel were bought in 1981 by producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown, the original script sat in limbo for six years, “They said it was too brutal,” Adler remembers. It was executive producer Polly Platt – who was divorced from Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) in 1974 – who rediscovered the script and took it to James Brooks, himself the veteran of a divorce. “The Roses fought over things,” Platt points out, “but the things represented their love for each other…They’re using objects to express this horrendous, possessive love.”
And while the Roses may carry the hostilities further than most offscreen couples ever dreamed of doing, their tactics sound chillingly realistic to attorneys such as Boston divorce lawyer David Lee, who has seen partners sparring over paper towels and rolls of masking tape. “It’s not rational,” he says. “Underneath the possessions, there are real issues of control and pain. If one person feels that he has been able to take advantage of the other, then he feels he has his dignity.”
Dignity, in fact, often seems to be at a premium in many divorce disputes. As these tales demonstrate, even the most rational sorts can lose all sense of propriety when a partnership goes away.
Chicago Tribune by Dave Kehr
Eden Turns Ugly ‘War of the Roses’ a frantic battle of the sexes
The sheer extremism of Danny DeVito’s black comedy The War of the Roses is staggering; the movie, with its occasional narrative missteps and overwrought visuals, is a bit less so.
Adapted by Michael Leeson from a novel by Warren Adler, the film is framed as a cautionary tale related by a divorce lawyer (played by director DeVito) to a prospective client. The lesson is that there are no winners in the battle of the sexes.
Oliver and Barbara Rose (Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner) seem like an ideal couple: He’s a rising young Washington lawyer, and she’s the good, faithful wife who has dedicated herself to making him a perfect home. But when her housewifey duties approach their end – the children are ready to leave for college, and every inch of their sprawling home has been tastefully decorated with hand-picked antique furniture – she realizes that she’s come to hate her husband, and demands a divorce.
DeVito has learned a lot since directing his first feature, the blunt “Throw Momma from the Train.” Instead of letting everything loose at once, he allows the outrageousness to build. The picture runs through several shifts in style, starting off (as Barbara and Oliver meet on an idyllic New England vacation) as a shimmering romance, shifting into lush, Ross Hunder-style melodrama when their beautiful home begins to break up, and finishing in the gothic excess of a horror film, as the couple’s struggle for possession of the house turns into a physical contest.
DeVito always keeps something in reserve: Just when you think the picture has gone as far as it can go, it goes a little farther. The comedy is one of pure anger – the eruption of naked hostility, both verbal and physical, into ostensibly civilized contests.
The aggression mounts slowly (and may even take a little too long), eventually achieving epic heights of cruelty and destructiveness. Only once does the film back down, by adding an insert shot to soften a sequence that clearly must have proved too much for the preview audience.
It can’t be too easy to keep a comedy on track when the underlying emotions are so vicious and, indeed, DeVito’s staging slips more than once – too realistic here, too broad there – resulting in a film that is at least as often funny-peculiar as it is funny-haha.
Too keep the film on a certain level of stylization, which it needs if it isn’t going to become too nasty, to depressing, DeVito has resorted to come highly self-conscious lighting effects and complicated camera movements, yet such trickery intrudes more than it lightens.
In guiding the performances of his old “Romancing the Stone” colleagues, DeVito has mixed success. Turner has so much more screen presence and fire than the feckless Douglas that she ends by unbalancing our sympathies: She’s a dragon pouncing on a mouse. (It doesn’t help either that Leeson’s screenplay never quite clarifies her reasons for wanting out.) Turner makes such a magnificent harpy, snarling and seething with passion, that the picture turns out with more of a misogynist streak than its makers probably intended. Douglas just doesn’t have the resources to keep up at the end of the bargain.
At the moment, DeVito has more to offer in his sensibilities than his directional skills: In “The War of the Roses,” the conception is occasionally brilliant (Barbara, an ex-gymnast, doing a cartwheel as she plunges down the grand staircase), the execution often smudgy (the fall is too obviously doubled). But there’s a conviction in his work, a core of personality and feeling, that sets it apart from the great majority of current American films, with their bland TV brightness.
The War of the Roses certainly won’t be everyone’s idea of grand holiday entertainment, but it’s something to be reckoned with.
Danny DeVito Paints an American Gothic
Michael Douglas is a mess. His face is sweaty and unshaven, his greasy hair unkempt, and his expensive shirt looks as if Smokey the Bear used it as a pajama top. In his hand is a menacing automobile crank and on his face is a look of the purest malevolence. “Divorce,” he says evenly, “is a bitch.”
Danny DeVito, by contrast, is cheerful and ebullient. “The romantic stuff is over, we’re into the good stuff now,” he says, his merriment irrepressible. “The house is boarded up, he’s looking for her but can’t find her. We’re into the fighting now.”
Welcome to the antic set and divided world of The War of the Roses, an implacably black comedy, which Mr. DeVito, who is directing as well as starring in with Mr. Douglas and Kathleen Turner, describes as being about “passion, love, divorce and furniture.”
“Roses,” due out at Christmas, tells the cautionary tale, narrated by a divorce lawyer, Gavin Damato (Mr. DeVito), of Oliver and Barbara Rose, a Washington power couple who, after a blissful courtship and 17 years of marriage, find themselves involved in an increasingly furious divorce.
But instead of one of them moving out of their large, comfortable house, so spacious it was spread over two sound stages on the 20th Century Fox lot where the film has just finished shooting, the Roses dig their heels in and engage in tit-for-tat on an apocalyptic scale. Sabotaging each other’s lives and wrecking their most precious possessions, not to mention their health, in the process.
“It’s a dangerous kind of comedy,” says Ms. Turner, echoing a common on set theme. “The situations are truly funny, but it’s kind of shocking that they are.”
“I remember wanting very much to start a picture as a traditional romantic comedy and have it turn and turn and turn,” says James L. Brooks, the director of “Terms of Endearment” and “Broadcast News” who is producing “Roses” (along with Arnon Milchan, who optioned the Warren Adler novel it is based on) under his Gracie Films banner. “I liked the idea of silly bliss turning into horror, into something genuinely frightening and genuinely funny. This is a real horror film, because we all know people who have lived through it.
Mr. Brooks, one of the creators of “Taxi” ended up entrusting the project to a pair of the TV series’ alumni: he gave the book to the writer Michael Leeson, and though his successful debut as a film director with “Throw Momma From the Train” was still in the future, offered the script to Mr. DeVito who had not only starred in “Taxi” but also directed a few episodes. “There has never been a question about Danny as a feature director,” Mr. Brooks says. “We’ve always used the same set on ‘Taxi,’ and it had been running for four years, but when Danny directed the show, he somehow found new camera angles.”
In fact, the only thing Mr. DeVito apparently doesn’t like about directing this film is the hassle of having to star in it as well. “Sometimes it can be a little bit nerve-wracking to sit in the makeup chair,” he says, casual in white pants and blue, open necked shirt. “I don’t want to be there, I want to be on the set with the boys and girls. So I put the costume half on and run out there to set the shot up. What I’d like is to find a film where I could dress like this. Maybe I should do ‘Day for Night.’ I wonder if Truffaut sat in the makeup chair.”
To see Mr. DeVito on the set is to see someone who, says Mr. Brooks, “does something that always in some way used to bother me: he makes work fun.”
Mr. DeVito “has this great big radiation around him,” says Marianne Sagebrecht, last seen on screen in Percy Adlon’s “Baghdad Café,” who co-stars at the director’s suggestion as the Roses’ maid. “He is a big hug.”
Hug or not, Mr. DeVito is uncompromising when it comes to seeing his directorial vision through to the end. “He’s tough, he’s demanding, I tell him he’s a lot like Francis,” says the co-executive producer Doug Claybourne, who worked for Francis Coppola for nearly a decade. “He’s interested in doing something unique with a camera. There is a very sophisticated piece of equipment called a Louma crane. I’d never used it in 10 years; Danny uses it three or four times a week.”
Sitting in his chair, with a Dirty Harry photo and the words, “Go Ahead, Make One More Change” pasted on the back, Mr. DeVito taps his cigar into the elaborate Rose family silver candy dish a crew member has thoughtfully Velcro-ed to the video monitor. “If it’s not right now it’s never going to be right,” he says, “and it’s never going to be with you for the rest of your life. It’s like writing: someone will come up to you and say, ‘Ain’t you the guy who wrote that story 10 years ago?'”
The shot Mr. DeVito is patiently waiting to be set up has a bedraggled Oliver Rose headed through the ceiling into the attic, in search of his former beloved. Mr. Douglas looks every bit as weary as the fact that he only had five days’ rest – between “War of the Roses” and his previous film, “Black Rain” – would indicate. He tells the director he wants to go right into the scene. “He doesn’t want to rehearse it!” Mr. DeVito responds gleefully to no one in particular, “He wants to shoot! Rehearsal is for wimps. This is a macho man.”
The star-director banter is especially warm on this set because Mr. DeVito and Mr. Douglas have in fact been good friends since 1966, when both were employed at the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater in Waterford, Conn. “It was the first time either one of us got paid,” remembers Mr. Douglas. “I think it was only $65 a week, but that is a big moment in any actor’s life. And now I have the added element of being able to goose the director once in a while and talk about sick things you wouldn’t ordinarily share.
Mr. Douglas has always know that Mr. DeVito has wanted to direct, and in fact remembers some of his early 8- and 16- millimeter short films, especially one where “a suburban housewife gets all dolled up once her husband is asleep, goes out and commits murders. He had a dark sense even then.” Still, he finds himself “shocked sometimes at how camera-oriented Danny is. “For an actor, he has a very strong visual sense, and though it is a please to watch him push sequences to get the picture he has in mind, the different camera moves can be exhausting.”
The friendship notwithstanding, Mr. Douglas was primarily attracted to “The War of the Roses” by its black comic nature. “It’s a tightrope and you’re flying without a net,” he says. “You don’t know what will be funny, what will be poignant. But one of the benefits of being on a roll is the opportunity to take chances without them pulling the chain on you. I don’t have to live and die on the success of one picture,” says the actor, who in the last few years has had box office success with “Fatal Attraction” and “Wall Street.”
And both Mr. Douglas and Ms. Turner were attracted by the opportunity to play characters who go way beyond the decorous boundaries of acceptable behavior. “I was fascinated by stepping over the brink of civility and reverting to animal instincts. Primal behavior is fun to play,” he says, while Ms. Turner notes that she’s “really a little shocked that I haven’t been more embarrassed by Barbara’s all-out character. I’ll tell my husband things I did that got a great laugh, and he’ll say, ‘You did what?'”
Also an attraction for Ms. Turner was the chance to reunite with Mr. DeVito and Mr. Douglas after working with both of them in “Romancing the Stone” and “Jewel of the Nile.” “A lot of personal conflicts and ego have already been working out,” she says. “You don’t have to come in and impress your co-stars. Either you did it already or you didn’t.” Still, she notes, “Everyone is a little leery of being typed.”
A lot of thought went into whether the regrouping was really a good idea. “Everything about the familiarity – the fact that they were friends, the possible confusion with “Romancing the Stone” – was both pro and con,” says Mr. Brooks. Finally, says Mr. Douglas, the feeling was that “by the audience knowing the three of us together, they would be more forgiving, more open when we got into the sick stuff.”
One of the more tame examples is the scene in which Oliver Rose sneaks in and carefully removes one heel from every pair in his wife’s extensive and beloved shoe collection.
Because of “Roses’s” on the edge qualities scenes could be played and cut together with varying shades of darkness, Mr. Brooks says. “It’s going to be a rich post production, with a lot of discoveries. Usually by the script and the shooting stage, you know the tone you want, but here that decision will happen in the editing.”
Still, Mr. Brooks is sure that this film will touch a lot of nerves, including his own. “I remember when I went through my divorce, sitting in a restaurant and thinking, ‘Half the people here have survived what I’m going through, and look, they’re eating, they’re talking in wine, they’re laughing,” he says.
“A friend told me of a time when he was knocking on his wife’s door, she wouldn’t let him in, and he began to knock on the door with his head. We’re all ready to knock on the door with our heads, we all know ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ It’s a horrible experience and this is one way of exploring it.”
The Hollywood Reporter by Duane Byrge
Civilized divorce is often a contradiction in terms, much like dark comedy. And when you combine those two contradictory phenoms, a dark comedy about civilized divorce, the result is, not unexpectedly, scorchingly incendiary.
The prickly, black War of the Roses, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as a warring couple, is a deliciously perverse slant on a modern marriage gone berserk.
Expect a very substantial box office settlement for 20th Century Fox, but support payments from many mainstream viewers may wither post-holidays.
Although Christmas is the most fertile season for relationships to fade and die, the movie’s rankling lot line may be too acidic and ultimately too bleak to cultivate breakaway grosses.
However, look for Roses to resprout next spring, come awards time, when director Danny DeVito and actors Douglas and Turner become contenders for the various honor bouquets.
Told in deadpan, no-holds-barred flashback by Douglas’ divorce lawyer (DeVito), War of the Roses is a scathingly funny and yet harrowingly pessimistic portrait of human behavior-hate filled behavior that escalates to such sickening degrees that it is actually a descent into primal regression.
“We came from mud. And after 3.8 billion years of evolution, at our core there is still mud. No one could be a divorce lawyer and doubt that,” opines the hardened DeVito, whose narration provides the film’s point of view.
The mudslinging itself takes time. The marriage of Oliver (Douglas) and Barbara (Turner) is a rosy one. They’re a perfect pair. He’s a fast-track lawyer, and he’s a creative homemaker. They’re the envy of their friends, but while their marriage may look good on the society page, it is poisoned from within. Overachiever Douglas is immersed in his law practice and doesn’t notice the seedlings of his wife’s dissatisfaction.
After 18 years of marriage, she’s completed the house decoration, the kids are off to school and she feels no identity; to her workaholic husband she’s just a success symbol.
In Michael Leeson’s wickedly perceptive screenplay, Turner’s underlying torment is initially manifested by small, oblique assaults on her self-absorbed husband: Tormenting his beloved dog, sabotaging the household appliances, disrupting his sleep. But she doesn’t get his attention.
It’s not until Douglas is rushed to a hospital emergency ward with a suspected coronary-with Turner failing to show up-that the good provider realizes something is askew.
She wants out of the marriage; he wants a good reason. She doesn’t like the way he chews his food. She’s come to loathe him.
Civilized types, they both want a painless severance. She forsakes alimony; he’s prepared to give a generous settlement. But, there’s a sticking point, the couple’s beautiful, caringly furnished home-the architectural monument of their lives. Neither will give it up.
It’s a territorial war, and the mudslinging escalates from childish splats to primatial barrages.
Roses is funniest when it’s in the dirt, and director DeVito grubs a terrific load of comic petals from this behavioral dungpile. DeVito’s assured direction, with a savvy sense of comic distance and an agile appreciation of pacing, consistently vitalizes this thorny comedy with knockabout touches. Bizarre comic flourishes are abundant, ripe and decadent.
As the battling couple, Douglas and Turner are splendid, and, most important, sympathetic. Impeccably polished, Douglas shines as a gleaming modern-day warrior whose big-picture outlook obscures his personal vantage. Turner is wonderful-appealing, ferocious, and vulnerable all at once. Hunched up and glaring sideways, her rage is, indeed, a frightening sight.
As the narrator-lawyer, DeVito expertly punctuates the production with a chain-smoking cadence and a twistedly rugged outlook. Marianne Sagebrecht adds a much-needed breath of sanity as the couple’s war-torn maid.
Technical contributions are at the top of the evolutionary scale. Stephen H. Burum’s sumptuous photography and Ida Random’s patrician production design indelibly convey the outer-world grandeur that, in this case, masks the inner-world rancor of human behavior.
LA Times by Peter Rainer
To the Heart of ‘War of the Roses’
It’s called lightning in a bottle and Hollywood doesn’t capture it very often. It happened with “Fatal Attraction” two years ago, and with “Platoon” the year before that. And it’s happening right now with The War of the Roses. With no common themes, these movies-a psychological thriller, a war movie, and a black comedy-entered the American consciousness and stirred it up on opening day.
The success of these movies is not determined by gross receipts, though The War of the Roses seems certain to join the other two on the hit list. What makes them special is the fact that they connect with mass audiences in ways that dominate peoples’ thoughts and conversations for days, weeks, even months after the credits have rolled.
Are they great movies? Critics disagree, and so do many of the viewers who go to the nearest espresso bar (or Denny’s) to slug it out. “Platoon” did not resolve moral conflicts over America’s involvement in Vietnam, but it sure provided a rope for both sides to tug on. “Fatal Attraction” had no greater ambition than to entice viewers with a roller-coaster rise into murderous dementia; the film makers were as shocked as anyone when the film became the whip with which women lashed out at the double-standard and eventually put the one-night stand on probation.
The War of the Roses, which parodies the disintegration of the “perfect marriage,” has been provoking arguments ever since 20th Century Fox began screening it for press and industry audiences a month ago. This week, after more than two million paying customers got their first look at the movie, it has been the lunch-room subject of choice across the land.
Fox, which had launched the movie with trailers portraying Roses as some sort of domestic screwball comedy, has shifted its advertising campaign to exploit the darkly violent center that has propelled the debate over the movie. The new Roses trailer is a take-off on “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and the ad copy goes to the heart of things: “In ‘The War of the Roses,’ my true love gave to me… 12 traps a flying, lots of orchids dying, piles of statues breaking, all the walls a shaking, lots of flying chairs, tumbling down the stairs, five broken teeth, four fractured bones, three cracked ribs, two wrecked cars, and a pup-peeeyyy in a pate.”
One thing seems certain. The dialogue on The War of the Roses has just begun. Viewers will debate whether the film goes too far in it physical depiction of a marriage-gone-foul, and media pundits will debate whether the film’s power is due to the film makers’ craft and cunning, or simply their timing.
In the following piece, Peter Rainer explains why a film that he doesn’t think works, works so well with audiences.
Three types of films generally fall into the Everybody’s-Talking-About-Them category. The first is the event movie: hyped jamborees like “Batman” or “Ghostbusters” or “Top Gun.” The second is the issue movie: controversial Op-Ed films like “Mississippi Burning” or “Do the Right Thing.”
Then there’s the close-to-home movie: films like “When Harry Met Sally,” “sex, lies and videotape” and, now, The War of the Roses that attempt to deal with the “real” concerns of their (mostly white middle-class) audience-namely, love, sex, marriage and divorce. Such films often function for their followers as big-screen group-therapy sessions. Audiences take these films personally, too. If you reject the film, it’s often taken to mean that you reject the person who loved it.
The impulse to see what everyone else is seeing is central to the success of many of these movies. People want to key into a communal experience. For even the occasional moviegoer, going to the films that everyone is talking about provides a convenient tribalism. Of course, this tribalism is to some extent rigged by the media-hype machine. Hits can be launched by saturation advertising. Bad films can be puffed into profit while good films, deprived of promotion, often fall posthaste into the video bin.
But on some level, all of the Everybody’s Talking About Them films strike a nerve in the audience-which is not to say that they are necessarily good films. One of the treacheries of movies is that they can break down our emotional defenses even if we reject them intellectually. I’m not sure I trust any liberal who doesn’t admit being charged up by “Dirty Harry.” Or any feminist who wasn’t hooked by “Fatal Attraction.” The visceral nature of film undercuts our neat formulations of how we live our lives and draws us into murkier terrain. The tribalism of the film experience at least brings a bit of light into the murk. A shared fear is a less lonely fear. When a film works for a vast audience, when it shakes up that audience, it’s often because it brings out into the open hopes and anxieties that are simmering in the culture.
A movie that everyone is talking about has its precursor in the culture itself. Its success confirms the fact that, off screen, people are already conversant with its themes. For example, the hip therapy-ese, the sexual approach/avoidance in “sex, lies and videotape” turned its audience on because, in a sense, the movie sounded like its audience. If movies are our national theater, then such a film gratified its viewers by making them players on its stage. The narcissism of the movie star becomes the narcissism of the moviegoer. You respond most to the celebration of your image.
Which brings us back to The War of the Roses, a black comedy about a hellish divorce. It is not, I think, a very good film. But it’s the movie everybody is talking about right now, and it’s not difficult to understand why. Unlike some better movies, The War of the Roses has a real subject – the way love turns to hate – and it works it up in a way that’s far more spirited and knockabout than the usual teary – noble approach. The film’s escalating skirmishes “go too far” – and that’s the point. They carry out the audience’s most bludgeoning revenge fantasies. (After the public screening I attended, couples eyed each other warily as they left the theater.)
The War of the Roses, which is directed by Danny DeVito, plugs into the downside of romance in much the same way that “Fatal Attraction” did. Even more so. “Fatal Attraction” starred Michael Douglas as a happily married lawyer whose fling with an emotionally isolated woman ends in Gothic horror. The film’s Gothic horror aspects put it over: It was old-time moralism tricked up in shiny new slasher-film duds.
The War of the Roses features Michael Douglas as a happily married lawyer, Oliver Rose, whose marriage to Kathleen Turner’s Barbara Rose turns out to be not so happy. Whereas “Fatal Attraction” thumped for the comforts of monogamous marriage, The War of the Roses says that even those comforts are a lie. The film offers the opportunity to let fly one’s worst suspicions about the impermanence of love. Its promotional campaign blares its intentions: “Once in a lifetime comes a motion picture that makes you feel like falling in love all over again” the ad line begins, followed by the kicker: “This is not that movie.” In fact, The War of the Roses sells cynicism as blithely as all those films that sell love. Its success indicates that audiences are primed for a comedy that confirms their own cynicism.
The success of many close-to-home movies is a function of the era in which they are made. “Annie Hall,” one of the key “communal” comedies of the ’70s, unveiled Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer and Diane Keaton’s Annie, new-style romantic heroes with their anxieties bristling on the surface. The film incorporated the ditsiness of courtship into its romantic scenario in a way that audiences found startlingly up-to-date. “Annie Hall” was as much about the impermanence of love as “The War of the Roses,” but its cynicism was doused in an obsessive optimism. For Alvy and Annie, romantic love may have struck out, but the need for love was never in question.
That need has been all but extinguished in The War of the Roses. Oliver and Barbara first meet while vacationing in Nantucket. (Naturally, the weather is stormy.) He’s a Harvard Law student; she’s a college gymnast. In the early years of their marriage, Oliver works his way up to partner in a prestigious Washington law firm while Barbara raises their two children and commandeers the remodeling of their imposing antique-stuffed suburban manse. That done, Barbara is free to survey the marriage, and she doesn’t like what she sees. She clicks off to the uncomprehending Oliver one night and never clicks back on. “Whenever I see you I just want to smash your face in,” she tells him, and the war is on. In the ensuing divorce, both claim the manse. When Barbara refuses Oliver’s $490,000 buyout offer, he counters by remaining in the house, divvying up the square footage in an increasingly nutso waiting game.
Since we never really glimpse what Barbara and Oliver once loved about each other, their split has no emotional power. If you take Barbara’s side, you’re supposed to recognize that Oliver is a workaholic who doesn’t really appreciate his wife’s sacrifices. If you take Oliver’s side, Barbara is some kind of ungrateful Gorgon. The lack of specificity in their break-up is a clue to the film’s mass appeal. It’s a generic split, and so audiences can project onto Oliver and Barbara’s situation their own checklist of dissatisfactions. The couple’s rancor has a loony, free-floating unreality, and yet there’s a mite of truth here: the film preys on our fear that, yes, lovers do indeed sometimes click off “for no reason.” The film uses its very lack of psychological depth as a taunt.
Sometimes a film can become a popular hit by venting worst-possible case prejudices. Movies don’t only deal in shared dreams; they also deal in shared evasions. Few contemporary films have dealt positively with the implications of a strong career woman trying to make a go of it in society. In Warren Adler’s 1981 novel on which The War of the Roses is based, Adler at least paid lip service to Barbara’s feminist stirrings. The movie is much more inequitable in its balancing act.
What comes across is a vast misogyny, and that, too, may be a key to the film’s appeal, just as it was in “Fatal Attraction.” “Fatal Attraction” began in opposition to Michael Douglas’ fling and then, by turning his lover into a monster, doubled back into an implicit attack on feminism.
The same mentality is at play in The War of the Roses, which doesn’t bother to make a convincing case for Barbara’s need to seek her freedom. She starts up her own successful catering business, but gets no real satisfaction from it. As Kathleen Turner plays her, Barbara doesn’t get much satisfaction from anything, not even vengeance. Her resistance to being a “traditional” woman isn’t dramatized; her love for her house isn’t either, despite the fact that the house is supposed to mean everything to her. (It’s her symbolic child; Oliver’s, too.) Barbara is zombified, witchy, while Douglas’ Oliver has the sodden, pasty look of someone whose sexual fires have been banked for too long. The film plugs into a widespread male feat: It’s the nightmare fantasy of a successful man who recognizes that, in allowing his wife to enjoy the luxuries his money provides while also allowing her to break the traditional wifely role model, he has created a monster.
Still, for women in the audience, there may be a charge in watching Barbara’s rampages. It may not matter that she’s a monster: if you can project yourself into her situation in general terms, ignoring the way the specific ways in which the film is skewed, then her monstrosities are righteous. Barbara is physically stronger than Oliver; she snares him in a leg-lock, socks him in the jaw, bites him in the groin. Oliver’s hatred for her is all balled up with lust; he still harbors fantasies of reconciliation. But Barbara is stone-cold throughout; she battens Oliver down every time.
If the misogyny in The War of the Roses strikes a popular chord, so too does its tactic of turning divorce battles into Gothic slapstick. The film’s hyperbolic style allows its grungier meanings to slip through the dragnet. In its depiction of Barbara, the film is saying that her feminist concerns are ultimately meaningless. Her resistance to being a traditional woman devolves into tribal warfare. The Roses’ predicament is turned into Strindberg Meets the Three Stooges.
The grotesqueness of the combat in The War of the Roses defines the film for our era just as readily as the delicate, neurotic parrying defined the combat in “Annie Hall.” For this is an era in which divorce is publicly and messily displayed; divorce is the lifeblood of the trash media. And a movie that mimics that trashiness, that turns agony into show-biz, has every chance of being accepted by audiences already pounded into submission.