Film Review: I Love You to Death (1990)

in #aaalast year


When real life story looks like it could serve as a plot of Hollywood film, the actual film based on it usually ends as disappointment. Having talented cast and crew can at times prevent such fate, like in the case of I Love You to Death, 1990 black comedy directed by Lawrence Kasdan.

The script by John Kostmayer is based on the events that occurred in 1983 Allentown, Pennsylvania, where man named Anthony Toto survived multiple assassination attempts by his wife Frances only to continue living with her after she served her prison sentence. The plot is set in Tacoma, Washington and Anthony Toto’s fictional equivalent, played by Kevin Kline, is Joey Boca, hard-working owner of pizzeria, plumber and landlord. He lives with loving wife Rosalie (played by Tracey Ullman), her Yugoslavia-born mother Nadja (played by Joan Plowright) and two children. He provides for his family well, but is also shameless womaniser and uses every opportunity for extramarital affairs. Rosalie is unaware of that, despite hints from Devo (played by River Phoenix), young pizzeria worker who idolises her. When she finally catches Joey with another woman, Rosalie feels so humiliated and hurt that she contemplates suicide. Instead, she decides to kill Joey, which is a decision seconded by Nadja. Their first attempts to take out Joey with baseball bat and improvised car bomb fail, with Joey blissfully unaware that he is target. Rosalie tries again with sleeping pills, but when those fail to kill Joey, she asks Devo to shoot him with revolver. Devo manages only to wound Joey but can’t make himself finish the job. Instead, he recruits two drug-addicted cousins – Harlan (played by William Hurt) and Marlon James (played by Keanu Reeves) – but those wannabe professional killers prove to be as inept as anyone else.

I Love You to Death is one the first film which Lawrence Kasdan, one of the most versatile and successful Hollywood directors at the end of 20th Century, directed based on someone’s else’s script. Its author John Kostmayer had difficult task. Potentially dark and disturbing story of someone being poisoned, incapacitated and injured to the point of actually dying had to be turned into comedy and, furthermore, insane details of protagonist’s ordeal had to be look convincing. The task was mostly carried out, but most credit should go to the cast. Kevin Kline (whose wife Phoebe Cates appears in cameo as one of protagonist’s romantic conquests) gave one of the most memorable performances of his career playing character with huge Italian accent and incredibly high appetite for life; despite his irresponsible and philandering ways the audience roots for his survival. British comedienne Tracey Ullman is also quite good in her role as perfect wife whose perfect world, based on illusion, crumbles in such way that would lead her to homicidal folly. Joan Plowright is somewhat less impressive in her role, at least for those viewers that grew up in post-Yugoslav era and would like her ethnic background (Croat, based on details presented) more specific. Those three easily overshadow River Phoenix, while William Hurt and Keanu Reeves appear relatively late in the film to have proper impact. Despite that, some pacing issues and somewhat over-Hollywoodised ending, I Love You to Death provides enough humour and entertainment and can be recommended to viewers that like bizarre real life stories with happy end.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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Critic: AA

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