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Film: The War of the Roses

(Click here for the historical "Wars Of The Roses")

Based on a 1981 novel by Warren Adler, The War of the Roses is a (pitch) Black Comedy from 1989, produced by James L. Brooks and directed by (and co-starring) Danny De Vito, about an escalating war over marital assets between wealthy, divorcing spouses Oliver and Barbara Rose (Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner) that gets taken to a ridiculous and tragicomic extreme.

The title is a Shout-Out to the English war between the noble houses Lancaster and York.


This film provides examples of:

  • Abuse Is Okay When It Is Female on Male: To an extent. Oliver is near equally callous to Barbara, but his acts have far less malice. Barbara however is far more effective and frequently places him through extreme physical torture. Even when he has been pushed to borderline insanity he is still on the receiving end for the large part, and any blows he does land are more accidental than anything else. However, seeing as how Oliver deep down still does love her, something Barbara definitely doesn't feel the same way about regarding him, it makes sense why he can't resort to the same level as she can.
  • All Just a Dream: Implied that the entire story is fake, one that a lawyer tells to convince a client not to divorce his wife. Part of it is that the lawyer has knowledge to events he couldn't possibly have known.
  • Berserk Button: See Eat the Dog below. Oliver was petty and childish in his half-hearted comebacks to Barbara, and he even tries to make peace after she nearly (and deliberately) kills him in his sauna, but that event was the turning point that made him every bit as destructive as she was.
    • Not to mention leading him to believe she has cooked his dog and fed it to him, at which point he pretty much goes ape shit.
  • Big Fancy House: Too bad they both want it.
  • Book Ends: The porcelain figurine that began Oliver and Barbara's relationship is the last thing that they fight over. It ends up smashed to bits by Oliver when Barbara refuses to hand it over to him, even when he was trading her everything else for it.
  • Butt Monkey: Oliver, while both spouses commit horrific acts upon each other Barbara is clearly more effective and successful in their Escalating War. Pretty much any stand off they have, Oliver is set up so he is clearly on the losing end.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: The film starts out with Gavin smoking a cigarette that he had been keeping in a glass case for several years, vowing to never smoke again if he never smoked that cigarette. As he smokes, he tells a prospective client about ''why'' he took the cigarette out of the glass case to smoke it. Another one of his clients was Oliver Rose, who was in a Divorce Assets Conflict with his wife, Barbara. Said conflict turned nasty, including an attempt by Barbara to seduce Gavin. The stress of having Barbara come on to him and yet restraining himself from giving in stressed Gavin out so much that he smashes the glass case to get at the cigarette to smoke it.
  • Closer to Earth: Played around with. It is shown that Oliver's overbearing and inaffectionate treatment of Barbara act as the starting fuse of the couple's bitter separation, by the point the two finally clash however, this has evolved Barbara into a vindictive and unhinged Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. Oliver, while still a rather unsympathetic self absorbed Jerkass, maintains some lingering amount of love and sympathy for Barbara even in his dying breath. Barbara, from a very early state, wants nothing more than the guy to just drop dead.
  • Cool Car: Oliver drives a classic convertible. Which Barbara destroys with her own Monster Truck.
  • Destructo-Nookie: Subverted. Part of the climactic fight ends up with Kathleen Turner straddling Michael Douglas, begging him to show her his... "little captain". He does, but it doesn't end well for him.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The movie in a nutshell. From both sides.
    • More consistently however, the trope usually works a lot more in Barbara's favor than Oliver's.
  • Divorce Assets Conflict: The whole point of the story.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Oliver destroying the porcelain figurine, which brought them together in the first place.
  • Eat the Dog: Subverted. After Oliver accidentally runs over her cat, Barbara serves Oliver a pate and heavily implies to him that it's his dog, making him go mad with rage and grief. We see later the dog is alive, but Oliver never finds out.
    • Played horrifically straight in the novel, and the original intention was for the movie to follow suit. However, test audiences reacted badly so a very brief shot of the dog getting up was added to establish that it was still alive. Notice that other than this two-second shot, there's no indication in the rest of the film that the dog is actually still alive.
  • Exact Words:
    Oliver: (holding up one of Barbara's trinkets) Say it's mine, and you can have everything in this house.
    Barbara: Okay. It's mine.
  • Falling Chandelier of Doom: At the end, they both hang *on* it, and then Kathleen Turner reveals that she loosened the screws to drop it on Michael Douglas. Chekhov's chandelier indeed.
  • The Film of the Book: Believe it or not, the movie was based on a novel of the same name. However, the original novel had none of the movie's humor and in fact got kinda creepy toward the end.
  • Footsie Under the Table: Done early in the movie, during a dinner at the Roses' house, by a female guest to Danny De Vito's character.
  • Framing Device: Danny DeVito, playing a divorce lawyer, tells a client the story of the Roses. He convinces his client NOT to divorce his wife. (A non-greedy lawyer? Wow.)
  • Grey and Grey Morality: Neither of the Roses is exactly an innocent in events; Barbara goes to extremely spiteful extremes regarding the divorce, but Oliver was a pretty controlling, dismissive and inattentive husband, all of which fuelled Barbara's resentment and poisoned the relationship.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Barbara spends quite some time and effort loosening the bolts supporting the enormous chandelier over the foyer. When she accidentally goes over the railing overlooking the hall, she ends up clinging to the chandelier herself. Oliver tries to help her by grabbing on to it, but it's too heavy and pulls him over the edge too. The combined weight is enough to send the chandelier crashing to the floor, killing them both.
  • I Ate What?: At the end of the book/movie, Barbara Rose makes dinner for Oliver, who compliments her paté. She says, "Don't thank me. Thank Benny." Benny is Oliver's dog.
  • Lack of Empathy: The pivot of the very venomous breakup. After Barbara shrewdly injures Oliver in sex games out of anger, he is convinced he is dying of a heart attack the following morning after it causes a hernia. Oliver recovers, only to find his wife is not the slightest bit mournful upon hearing of his supposed death (let alone that she indirectly caused it) and is now using his supposed dying will as a plan B to throw him out with literally everything to her name.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: The Aesop delivered by Gavin to his client at the end of the movie, after the Rose couple subvert it to high heaven and refuse to let either gain winning ground up to their demise.
  • Murderous Thighs: Barbara Rose grabs her husband in a leg-lock when he's trying to get amorous, squeezing the breath out of him. The next day, the injury leads to a hernia, and results in Oliver believing he's having a fatal heart-attack... Which, apparently, inspires him to leave the house to Barbara as his "dying will." She immediately uses it as a legally-binding document against him.
    • It should be pointed out that Oliver's doctors tell him that his hernia could not have been caused by being "squeezed between someone's legs."
  • Oktoberfest: Their housekeeper Susan
  • Only Sane Man: Danny DeVito's character.
  • Pet the Dog: In the end, after they've fallen, chandelier and all, and they both lay dying in the wreckage, Oliver reaches out to his wife to show that he still loves her after all, and dies.
    • Kick the Dog: And Barbara, as her last act, grabs his hand and tosses it away.
  • Rape Is Love: Subverted. In their fight in the house where they are chasing each other around and breaking each other's stuff, Oliver tracks down Barbara and attempts to force himself on her. Immediately, she begins moaning as she did in their first sex scene. However, she only does this to make it easier for herself to perform a Groin Attack
  • This Is My Side: Oliver thinks it's a great idea to divide the house in "my rooms, her rooms, and neutral areas," even though it's clear Barbara is playing him for a fool. Gavin immediately tells him that it's the worst thing he could possibly do and advises him to move to a hotel ASAP.
  • Unrequited Love: Dead love example. Oliver still loves Barbara and amidst their horrific feud, still wants things to go back. However, Barbara wants Oliver out of her life in any way possible.
  • X Must Not Win: The driving point of the couple's war, eventually to their own detriment. They refuse to submit the house to the other, and slowly drive themselves insane with every petty attempt to destroy the other. Perhaps best exemplified with the Exact Words example above.
WarlockFilms of the 1980sWeekend at Bernie's

alternative title(s): The War Of The Roses
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