Bed of Roses
In order for a romance to work, whether it be a book or a film, it has to be rooted in reality. If the audience is expected to relate to a fairy tale, that fairy tale has to have threads of the real world running through it, or else it exists on an unreachable place.
"Pretty Woman," which was basically a modern Cinderella story, was grounded in the harsh world of drugs and prostitution. "Untamed Heart," one of the best romances of the 90's, existed in the realistic setting of the blue collar working class. Unlike those, this year's first tearjerker, "Bed of Roses," has none of that until it's half over.
Early on we are introduced to Lisa Walker (Mary Stuart Masterson), a young female vice president in a large company. She is apparently so wrapped up in her work that she has time for little else. After hearing of the death of someone close to her, she goes home late at night and cries alone by her front window. The next day a mysterious bunch of flowers are sent to her, and the romance is off to a running start.
It turns out that the flowers were sent by a young man named Lewis, played by Christian Slater. He saw her crying in the window, and it moved him so much that he felt compelled to follow her to work and find out who she was. Lewis is not only the delivery boy who brings the flowers to her, but he also owns the flower shop. Why would the owner also work as a delivery boy? Because he "likes to see the people's faces" when he gives them flowers.
That's only one of the endlessly sappy details that make him virtually unbelievable as a human character. He's like a composite of all the best answers to a "What Women Want In A Man" survey in "Cosmo." He's rough handsome, but still wears glasses to retain a certain intellect about him; he likes going to the library to listen to story hour with children; he dresses straight out of a J. Crew catalogue; he likes to take long walks at night; and, the ultimate in 90's male sensitivity, he loves flowers to the point where he has built his own Garden of Eden on the rooftop above his New York apartment.
This is all in the first half hour, and it's so dripping with contrived sentiment, it's nearly nauseating. It's a perfect textbook example of cinematic overkill. But then something nice happens: "Bed of Roses" almost turns into a real movie.
Once all the formalities of the romantic meeting and beginnings of the relationship are finally over, first time writer-director Michael Goldenberg turns Lewis and Lisa into real characters by putting them in realistic situations and having them cope in human terms. Why he couldn't have done this earlier is a mystery. It's a cliche that every relationship has to have some sort of complication, and Goldenberg moves into overkill again with an obvious "every rose has its thorn" metaphor. But the complication in this film is actually very plausible and is dealt with very realistically. It is only in these moments that "Bed of Roses" is worth watching.
The movie is obviously supposed to have a fairy tale overture, and this is hammered home in a scene where Lisa is watching a children's play of "Sleeping Beauty," and she realizes how she and Sleeping Beauty are alike. She's lived in her own world, holed up inside herself, unwilling to let someone love her, even if that someone is perfect.
At this point a nice theme comes across the resonates of real life: some people who have never been loved before think it's impossible that someone could actually love them, and they find themselves pushing away from anyone who tries. This is the lesson that Lewis teaches her, and if Goldenberg had stuck with that point and left out all the sappy melodrama of Lewis buying out every flower store in New York in order to give Lisa about a hundred dozen of her favorite roses, this movie would have been much better.
©1998 James Kendrick