Bed of Roses (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

While Bed of Roses lacks the freshness of When Harry Met Sally and the smart sensuality of Before Sunrise, it nevertheless possesses enough intelligence and energy to lift it into the upper echelon of "traditional" modern romances. And, with so many of today's recent love stories originating from Jane Austen's pen, something like Bed of Roses can offer a contemporary change of pace.

The film follows the expected pattern of a conventional romance: two characters meet and fall in love, complications arise, causing a breakup, then there's a reunion just in time for the end credits. While Bed of Roses offers few surprises in its formulaic progression of events, the tale is told with heartfelt tenderness, and, for once, the circumstances that threaten the pair's happiness have nothing to do with re-appearing old flames.

In some romances, couples must cross a generational gap to be together. Other times, the barrier may be cultural or racial. In Bed of Roses, each of the protagonists -- Lisa (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Lewis (Christian Slater) -- must overcome their own emotional dysfunctions in order to enter into a relationship. As a result of tragic pasts, neither is confident about expressing feelings, and, while both are emotionally needy, they discover that receiving is often as hard as giving.

Lewis was a happily married Wall Street mover and shaker when he lost both his wife and baby to childbirth. Since then, he has devoted his life to his new job: delivering flowers from the shop he owns. He does it because he likes to see people's faces when they receive their arrangement. In that way, he seeks solace through the ephemeral joy of others.

Lisa had a sad, lonely childhood that she never recovered from. Now, to compensate for the emotional gulf in her life, she has thrown herself fully into her career. With the exception of her best friend, Kim (the bubbly Pamela Segall), Lisa has no one to confide in or share with. She's a workaholic for whom the concept of fun is "utterly beside the point."

One night while Lewis is out for a walk, he looks up and sees Lisa standing by her window, crying. Moved, and not understanding why, he sends her an anonymous flower arrangement. Eventually, after being pressed for the sender's name, Lewis admits the truth, then follows up by inviting Lisa to spend the day with him, delivering flowers and watching people's faces.

Bed of Roses probably wants to be more literate than it succeeds at being. The film belabors the symbolism of flowers, which, at one point or another, stand for everything from life and love to the fragility of emotions. There are also messages about the importance of family and how the traumas of childhood affect a person's behavior as an adult. Not all these themes are effectively explored. Better, however, for Bed of Roses to be overambitious than for it to "dumb up" its script.

Among the movie's assets are the performances of leads Mary Stuart Masterson (Fried Green Tomatoes) and Christian Slater (Broken Arrow). Not only do these two work effectively as a couple, but each manages to create a sympathetic individual. Through the nuances of Masterson's performance, it's possible to feel Lisa's isolation. Likewise, Slater's underplaying of Lewis makes him more accessible to the audience.

Both Masterson and Slater have appeared in romances before -- he in Untamed Heart and she in Benny and Joon. Bed of Roses marks a step forward for both actors. And, as 1996's undisputed Valentine's Day date picture, this film offers the mood that couples expect from a light drama about love in the '90s. Although the overall story claims little in the way of originality, it at least approaches its material with charm, which is more than can be said of many so-called love stories.

Bed of Roses (United States, 1996)

Run Time: 1:27
U.S. Release Date: 1996-01-27
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1