I Love You to Death April 24, 2016
I Love You to Death is a farce with a capital F, and the sooner you get used to its off-the-wall, absurdist style of comedy, the more you’ll come to value its actors and its brand of self-assured screwiness. It stars Tracey Ullman as Rosalie Boca, a sunny force of a woman married to Joey (Kevin Kline), a mettlesome Italian with whom she co-owns a pizza parlor. They’ve been happily married for years. We can tell by the way Rosalie looks at him that she’s as in love with him as she was when they first started going out.
Unbeknownst to Rosalie, though, Joey is a womanizer who oftentimes sleeps with, if you can believe it, a different woman every day. He isn’t very sneaky about it — at one point he cracks that she could easily find out and not much care — and part of us is impressed by the way his libido is able to hold up so substantially. But the more time we spend with Rosalie, the more our heart breaks. Here is a woman who is perfectly content with what life has to offer her, completely unaware that the biggest component of her happiness is riddled with lies. So when she inevitably discovers her husband’s infidelities, her drastic reaction — first to kill herself (which fails), then to kill her spouse — doesn’t seem too far off. What would you do if your life went from ideal to doomed in the blink of an eye?
Enlisting the help of her mother (Joan Plowright) and a younger employee who has a crush on her (River Phoenix), Rosalie doesn’t waste time in the potential murder of her mate. She plans to spike a spaghetti dinner with two containers of sleeping pills, distinctly unworried about the consequences. But the scheme surprisingly doesn’t prove to be all too fruitful; hours pass by and Joey appears to be as good as new. Frantic energy mounts and the trio of plotters decides it might best to shoot the man after he falls asleep — but the bullet barely grazes his head, leaving him injured but still very much alive.
Murder attempts continue coming at a heated pace (dumbed down hitmen played by William Hurt and Keanu Reeves are even brought in at one point), but Joey establishes himself as being virtually unkillable, to the dismay of the people who want him dead and to us, who somehow take a liking to Rosalie’s less-than-moral ways of dealing with marital trouble. By the time the night of murderous offenses comes to a close, however, Rosalie is hit with the realization that manipulating the livelihood of her husband may actually be the thing that could save her marriage.
I Love You to Death is arguably unbelievable and fit with a premise that I’ll be the first to admit doesn’t work quite as well as it would like. It excuses its implausibilities by reminding us that it is based on a true story (a shock), but any woman as quick as Rosalie to decide that killing her husband is the only way to grapple with infidelity is more than likely to not be so emotionally stable. But the movie establishes her as being a woman of warmth and good-nature; when she descends into the role of a would-be murderess, we are minutely convinced that she’d go from caring to venomous in an instant.
But I Love You to Death is all the more distinct because it so frequently reaches for the undoable. It’s a black comedy with a strange sense of humor, a bizarre way of moving its plot along, and a gang of characters that are more mercurial and cartoonish than they are three-dimensional. I want to pan it for its messiness. And yet, it maintains a commendable likability that turns us away from adversity. Its ensemble is fetchingly screwball, and its director, Lawrence Kasdan, provides it with the necessary asinine oomph to make its derisiveness all a part of the charm rather than a pernicious flavoring. I won’t be remembering it and you won’t be either — but black comedies only infrequently work as well as I Love You to Death does, and for that, I must give it credit, even if I have to swallow my pride in the process. B-