Maybe it is a movie about two people, a man and a woman, who make a disillusioned attempt to change their life from a series of drinking bouts to a traditional homely model which will give them the feeling of safety.
But maybe it is about three people, a man and two women, who constitute a Love Triangle in which one woman makes a myth out of the sad reality and the other strives for making reality out of a myth, and man stands between them and waits for the ending of the conflict.
Or maybe it is simply about one man with the life of a drunkard and the mind of a poet, who tries to find out what should be his final attitude towards illusions.
Of course, there is also an unpleasant possibility that it is simply about sex, bar fights, and cheap philosophy.
Anyway, the main character, Henry Chinaski (Rourke), is an Author Avatar for Charles Bukowski, who also wrote the film's screenplay. His life consists of drinking and bar-brawling, apparently for no other reason than that the sole existence of his archnemesis, Eddie (Frank Stallone), infuriates him (the feeling is mutual, so he has many occasions to fight). Once more beaten by Eddie, he returns to the bar and meets Wanda Wilcox (Dunaway), a classy but crazy heavy drinker, with whom he fells in love at first sight. They get to live together, drink together, and sleep together. He is even planning to get a job. Little does he know that Tully Sorenson (Alice Krige), a young female intellectual and the owner of a literary magazine, got fascinated by his short stories and hired a private detective (Jack Nance) to find him so that she could convince him to change his life, move to the upper class and become a full-time writer. With their meeting comes the understanding that he is just unable to be anyone else than himself.
Contains the following tropes:
- The Alcoholic: Too many to count, but in the first place Henry and Wanda.
- Anger Born of Worry: Wanda seems prone to that.
- Bar Brawl: At least three of them.
- Black Comedy: Henry nearly falls the victim of Crying Wolf, when a medical emergency call to a dying person is made from his apartment FOR THE THIRD TIME.
- Bruiser with a Soft Center: Henry. Judging from the behaviour of the ladies around him, he is also considered something of a Lovable Rogue.
- Cat Fight: Wanda and Tully have a fight.
- Creator Cameo: Charles Bukoswki makes a silent cameo as Oldtimer.
- Do You Want to Haggle?: A hooker in the pub and her client, about a blowjob, no less.
- Downer Ending: Henry can't or won't change from his ways of wasting away at bars and Tully realizes this after he sits by and watches as Wanda attacks her when she comes to convince him that he can change. She leaves him in disgust and drops her plans to have his work published. The movie ends with him getting into another pointless fist fight with Eddie offscreen.
- Drunken Master: Henry usually fights when drunk - and sometimes wins.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Between Wanda and Tully.
- Grievous Bottley Harm: Employed by Wanda against Tully.
- Guys are Slobs: most notably, Henry - but it seems to be a common characteristic of the men attending Eddie's bar, who more often than not are covered with blood and booze at the same time.
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Every hooker in the bar.
- Lady Drunk: Most notably, Lily - but Wanda seems to be very close to it at the time of her first meeting with Henry.
- Liberty Over Prosperity: This seems to be Henry's view.
- Lower-Class Lout: Pretty much everyone with the exception of Tully.
- Perma-Stubble: Henry has it.
- Rich Boredom: Tully displays some signs of it.
- A Round of Drinks for the House: Henry Chinaski's "For all my friends!"
- Self-Made Woman: Tully, apparently.
- Stalker with a Crush: Tully, though the stalking is done by proxy.
- Streetwalker: Henry has a conversation with one of them.
- Unwanted Rescue: Henry does it to the neighbour whose husband is a Domestic Abuser. Leads to an Abuse Mistake with tragic results.
- Wishful Projection: Tully suffers from this quite a bit.