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I LOVE YOU TO DEATH

        

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Filmmaker Laurence Kasdan took a left turn with this one, a jet-black comedy that found its audience, and holds up today as a surprisingly successful satire. And it’s a true story! Paramount has just release it on Blu-ray for the first time, so here’s may review, published April 6, 1990, in the Deseret News.

 

"I Love You to Death" is a very dark comedy.

 

How dark is it? Well, it's about a woman who repeatedly tries to murder her philandering husband, aided by her mother, a young employee of her pizzeria and a couple of drugged-out hippies.

 

This is dark comedy.

 

And what makes "I Love You to Death" all the more intriguing is that it's based on a true story. You may remember it, in fact: A previously devoted wife tries to kill her womanizing husband, then he refuses to press charges against her because he feels she was in the right.

 

As the movie tells it, Kline is an Italian-American who owns and operates the pizzeria in Tacoma, Wash., with his wife Tracey Ullman. She is a plain woman who loves her husband and believes him when he tells her he's working on the plumbing problems in the apartment building they own. Actually, he's having affairs with every woman in the building.

 

       

 

Tracey Ullman, Kevin Kline, 'I Love You to Death' (1990)

 

When Ullman ultimately discovers the truth, she decides with her mother (Joan Plowright) that the only reasonable punishment for Kline is to kill him.

 

After a couple of failed murder attempts, they decide to poison his dinner one night by filling spaghetti sauce with three bottles of sleeping pills. When Kline won't die they enlist the aid of an employee at the pizzeria, goofy River Phoenix. He comes over to help but he isn't entirely successful either. So they next hire a couple of drugged-out hippies, played by William Hurt and Keanu Reeves, to do Kline in.

 

Certainly "I Love You to Death" is offbeat, though the subject of death and murder and even suicide are not unfamiliar to movie comedy — "The War of the Roses," "Heathers," Burt Reynolds' "The End" and the Hitchcock films "Family Plot" and "The Trouble With Harry" come to mind.

 

But what sets "I Love You to Death" apart is its comic zeal combined with a sense of congeniality developed by the characters. Members of this ensemble cast are all in top form. Kline, though somewhat over-exaggerating his ethnic characteristics, is a blissfully ignorant male chauvinist, and Ullman is perfectly happy — if not completely satisfied — with her subservient life. Until she discovers her husband's unfaithfulness. And Joan Plowright is perfect as Ullman's mother. She even looks like Ullman.

 

       

 

From left, Joan Plowright, Keanu Reeves, River Phoenix, 'I Love You to Death' (1990)

 

Phoenix is also very good as the spacey young employee who has a crush on Ullman. Hurt and Reeves, both even spacier than Phoenix, are hilarious as the would-be assassins.

 

But, strangely enough, in a film with as many big laughs as this one has, the biggest comes toward the end when we finally meet Kline's mother, played by Miriam Margolyes with great comic glee (she also played a memorable character in last year's "Little Dorrit" films). And there are a pair of funny in-joke cameos by Kline's real-life wife, Phoebe Cates, and the film’s director, Lawrence Kasdan, respectively.

 

This is unlike anything Kasdan has done before, though certainly his earlier work has shown a knack for blending comedy with serious themes. And "I Love You to Death" is the first film he has directed that he did not also write, following "The Accidental Tourist," "The Big Chill" and "Body Heat." (He also wrote or co-wrote "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi.")

 

And first-time screenwriter John Kostmayer has a wonderful sense of the absurd and manages to combine that with an amazing amount of warmth as well. He and Kasdan are a very good team here.

 

"I Love You to Death" is rated R for violence, a few profanities and a shot of Kline's bare derriere.