The War of the Roses (1989) Directed by Danny DeVito. With Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito.
Danny DeVito’s The War of the Roses begins in the same way that most fairytale romantic comedies end – with a blossoming love all dolled up in snowflakes, to a heart-warmingly Hollywood musical score. Based on a novel by Warren Adler, and adapted for the screen by Michael Leeson, DeVito’s film then becomes a joyfully acerbic, anti rom-com, that cleverly capitalises on the popularity of its leads as a recognised romantic couple from 1984’s Romancing the Stone.
The casting of Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, two actors with much individual presence and charisma, as well as beautiful screen chemistry, is an inspired choice. It’s inspired because it’s counterintuitive. These are two people who we’ve grown to know as a frisky screen duo, playfully bantering their way to true love. Here, it’s in reverse, as the playful banter gives way to something closer to outright hatred.
Of course, as seen in When Harry Met Sally, a film about the battle of the sexes is always ripe pickings for great exchanges of biting humour across the gender divide, and War of the Roses does not disappoint. Moreover, DeVito’s direction is full of interesting compositions, camera angles and most crucially, gets the most out of Douglas and Turner and their perfect comic timing.
Of the three pictures that Douglas and Turner have starred in together, this is perhaps the least fondly remembered. Which, considering it’s easily the best of those three, is something of a chin-scratcher. Maybe that’s because the majority of people would rather wrap themselves up in the cosy arms of fairytale true love, than the scabrous hyper-reality on offer here. I’m happily in the minority. 4/5