Divorce attorney, Gavin (Danny DeVito), in the darkly comic The War of the Roses (1989), screenplay by Michael Leeson from the 1981 novel by Warren Adler and directed by Danny DeVito, pleads with his client who is seeking a divorce. “I think you should hear the story though. It might matter to you. I won’t start the clock yet.” He pauses to reflect. “My fee is four hundred and fifty dollars an hour. When a man who makes four-hundred and fifty dollars an hour wants to tell you something for free, you should listen.”
Ben (Ben Affleck), a book-jacket copywriter, in the wildly funny and honest meditation on marriage Forces of Nature (1999), written by Marc Lawrence, is one day away from marriage. He receives unexpected advice from his grandfather. “Don’t tie yourself down. Even if you love a woman, it fades. Marriage,” he offers with graying years of wisdom, “is a prison.”
Not long afterwards, Ben’s young best man, Alan, offers similar advice from a book of quotes that he is gifting to Ben. “To say that you can love one person all your life,” he reads aloud, carefully, “is like saying that one candle will continue to burn as long as you live.”
Later, in a rental car, Ben happily tells a co-rider that he’s about to get married. “I was married once,” the man confesses without remorse.
From the book of quotes that Alan had gifted to him, Ben reads advice from the revered poet, Oscar Wilde. “One should always be in love. This is the reason one should never marry.” Ben pauses. “Well,” he dismisses, “What do you know?”
“You know, I’m kinda startin’ to get the feeling that there’s maybe a hint that I’m not getting here,” he ultimately admits to the footloose Sarah (Sandra Bullock), his natural-disaster-on-an-unplanned-road-trip companion. “Spell it out for me!” he shouts at the sky.
At one point, after Ben and Sarah awkwardly find themselves in a motel room together, he turns the radio on to Stephen Stills singing, “And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” He turns the radio off. Later, when Ben is embarrassingly stripping in a gay bar to raise needed money for his and Sarah’s crazed road trip to Savannah, the Luther Ingram hit (here performed by the group Faithless), “If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right,” blares in the background.
In this film, forces of nature in the form of Ben and Sarah uninhibitedly collide. As they head for Savannah, so does a hurricane, building strength off the east coast, and forces of nature again collide hilariously at Ben and Bridget’s wedding reception. In a beautiful epiphany, Ben and Bridget resolve their relationship in real time while their wedding guests fly around behind them in slow motion.
Will Ben emerge married to Bridget? Will he hook up with Sarah, or will he choose to remain unmarried?
In The War of the Roses, attorney Oliver (Michael Douglas) and later housewife/caterer Barbara (Kathleen Turner) make love for the first time in an idyllic Nantucket motel room. Oliver then dreamily projects, “This is a story we’re gonna tell our grandchildren.” They marry and have two kids. After receiving a rare Morgan automobile as a Christmas gift from Barbara, she asks, “Well, are you happy?” Oliver embraces and kisses her, responding, “I’m more than happy. I’m way past happy. I’m married,” he declares to the gods, ecstatically.
Cut back to Gavin and his divorce-seeking client. “Sounds like a fairy tale,” doesn’t it? Gavin says. “And it was,” he continues.
Oliver tells a story at a lavish dinner party of how he and Barbara came to own such a fine set of Baccarat crystal on their fifth anniversary in France. “A wealthy French couple had ordered a special design for their anniversary,” he begins. “By the time it was ready, they were getting a divorce. The woman had smashed her half,” Oliver continues, “and I convinced the man to sell us his half for cheap, just to spite her.” The dinner guests all have a nervous laugh. “And, that’s our Baccarat story,” Oliver says with a smile.
Things deteriorate in a darkly comedic way that only DeVito could direct. Oliver suffers a hiatal hernia. Barbara purposely avoids going to see him at the hospital, thinking he was having a heart attack and hoping he would die. While being rolled through a hallway on the way to the emergency room, Oliver passes a man on a stretcher who had been stabbed in the stomach by his wife. Barbara announces that she wants a divorce. Oliver, with Gavin as his divorce attorney, fights it with vengeance, specifically over who gets the house. Gavin pleads with Oliver to give Barbara the house and be done with it.
Cut back to Gavin and his client. “What do you call five-hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?” he asks the now confused man. “A good start,” he concludes.
Later, Barbara visits Gavin and attempts a bribe. “Have you ever made angry love?”
“Is there any other way?” he responds, before seeing her out of his office.
Gavin ultimately finishes his story to his divorce-seeking client. “Some story, huh? What’s the moral? Maybe it’s not natural to stay married to one person for life. My parents did it. Sixty three years!” he reflects. “A few of them good.”
Do Oliver and Barbara work it out? Do they divorce? Does Gavin’s client divorce, or does he walk away deeply considering these lessons on the nature of “tying the knot.”