The premise is simple enough: a moderately wealthy couple—whose last name is Rose—decides to get divorced after many years of marriage. But neither of them wants to give up their house, and both remain living in it, getting on each other's nerves as they deliberately and maliciously annoy and attack each other, each in an attempt to get the other to give up and leave.
It's exactly the sort of film I don't normally enjoy, where two equally detestable parties go back and forth trying to one up each other with ridiculous shenanigans that are rarely funny and never make up for the ninety minutes of wasted time. It reminds me of dumb comedy films like Duplex—which pits neighbor against neighbor—and Are We There Yet?, in which Ice Cube goes up against his new girlfriend's mischievous kids. These sorts of films aren't typically my cup of tea, but it wasn't my turn to pick the movie, so I just sat back and watched.
And then a funny thing occurred. Almost immediately, I got drawn into the story. That wasn't supposed to happen, but it did, and I was pleasantly surprised. I normally don't even care for Danny DeVito as a director, probably due to the fact that he made the awful Duplex, which I mentioned earlier. I mean, I did enjoy Matilda, but that was a family movie that I watched as a kid. War of the Roses was something else entirely, and despite my efforts, I couldn't help but enjoying it.
It tells the story in a different way than others of its kind. Things unfold naturally and totally believably. Sure, some of the stunts that the characters pull reach the same levels of ridiculousness as in those other films that I didn't like, but here we get the impression that it's done for the sake of the story, rather than for just another cheap laugh. Instead of yawning, I was wide sitting wide-eyed on the edge of my seat. It's not just funny; it's also very real and poignant, especially considering the fact that most of us know someone who's had a really tough divorce and it's easy to see how things could go just as bad as they do in War of the Roses.
And, unlike most of these kinds of movies and apart from my expectations, we actually end up caring about the characters, despite their overabundance of flaws. They're both selfish idiots, which makes the story so much better, but they're still believable and very well acted. From moment to moment we find ourselves siding with each one. Neither of them could be called true protagonists, as they constantly antagonize each other, but there's a balance of both deserved animosity and loathsomeness between them that is very well done. They got good actors to play these roles, and they play them so well that we almost don't notice that it could have been much worse in the hands of anyone else.
The whole story is told by Danny DeVito, who plays a divorce attorney who is telling it as a warning to a prospective client who never says a word during the entire film. And the ending is great. I won't spoil it, but trust me, it's a good one. This definitely isn't the best film I've seen, but it's certainly the best of its kind, and makes me reconsider my attitude toward this type of film. I just thought the whole idea was bad, but it turns out that it's often just done very poorly.