The author of 32 best-selling romance books takes her accountant away from his frumpy wife. And when this overweight suburban wife discovers what's been going on, she wreaks malicious and delicious revenge...
By 1989, Meryl Streep had already won two Oscars, garnered eight Academy Award nominations, and amassed an impressive body of work. Her thoughtful, meticulously executed portrayals of complex, intriguing, and controversial women wowed critics and audiences alike and enhanced her stellar reputation. One would think the seemingly flawless Streep had nothing left to prove, but a nagging question continually dogged her: Could America's foremost dramatic actress be funny? Mike Nichols' adaptation of Nora Ephron's 'Heartburn' showed off Streep's lighter side, but 'She-Devil' marked Meryl's first foray into full-fledged, no-holds-barred comedy. It was quite a leap for Streep, and while she asserts herself surprisingly well in Susan Seidelman’s uninspired film, watching her play a role so broadly, take some pratfalls, and milk several scenes for laughs is, frankly, tough to get used to.
Of course, Streep embraces the material, attacking it with customary fervor and a fearless attitude. Though she’s often quite amusing, let’s face it, she’s no Lucille Ball, and unfortunately, the lightweight nature of ‘She-Devil’ can’t support her weighty persona. Like everything else in her career, Meryl takes her comedy seriously and works hard to craft a performance that hits all the right notes. She seldom stumbles - metaphorically speaking - but lacks the spontaneity of a natural comic actress. Streep can bring delicious, arch humor to a believable character (Miranda Priestly and Julia Child are two notable examples), but struggles a bit to fully connect to the other-worldly Mary Fisher, a wildly successful romance novelist and husband stealer who lives in her own outlandish reality. Mary is a caricature of a caricature, and Streep never seems totally comfortable portraying her.
She also doesn’t click with her co-star, Roseanne Barr, who seems equally ill-at-ease and completely out of her league as Ruth Patchett, the frumpy, overweight, and all-too-complacent wife of upwardly mobile accountant Bob Patchett (Ed Begley, Jr.). Ruth lives vicariously through Mary Fisher’s wanton heroines, and gobbles up each of her salacious potboilers with relish. Yet when Ruth and Bob literally bump into Mary by chance at a hoity-toity gala (much to her embarrassment, Ruth spills red wine all over Mary’s designer gown), Bob becomes smitten with the glamorous author, who quickly sinks her lengthy talons into his hyperactive libido. In the blink of an eye, Bob becomes Mary’s new financial advisor and lover du jour, and after several torrid trysts, he unceremoniously dumps his loyal wife and abandons their two children for a life of unqualified luxury and non-stop bubble-bath sex with Mary.
At first, doormat Ruth continues to play the dutiful wife and mother, hoping her wayward hubby will see the error of his ways and come crawling back. Yet it soon becomes apparent such a fairytale resolution to Bob’s brazen infidelity won’t occur. So a newly inspired and vindictive Ruth decides to seek vengeance, and sets out to systematically and completely destroy her once-beloved hubby’s life…and that of his wicked paramour. She makes a list of Bob’s most treasured assets - house, family, career, and personal freedom - and solemnly vows to take all of them away from him. In the process, however, ruthless Ruth discovers her sense of self, and as she tears down Bob (and Mary), she builds herself - and an army of female compadres - up. Bob may call Ruth a she-devil, but she’s an angel of mercy and pillar of strength to the women she meets and champions.
As a comic vehicle, ‘She-Devil’ (based on a novel by Fay Weldon that was adapted into a far superior British miniseries in 1986) is decidedly subpar, but it’s entertaining enough if you haven’t yet ODed on 1980s female empowerment films. A nice balance of funny, mean, and sweet keeps it afloat, but the sailing is rarely smooth. Seidelman, who brought such freshness and spirit to ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ a few years before, and screenwriter Barry Strugatz, who penned the clever and underrated Mafia romp ‘Married to the Mob,’ go bland and mainstream here. The heavy-handed message and cartoonish comedy cheapen the story, and Seidelman’s clunky direction lacks any invention or vitality. Not surprisingly, ‘She-Devil’ didn’t do anything for either of their careers.
Nor did it do anything for Barr. Riding the crest of a wave of popularity spawned by her eponymous TV sitcom, which premiered to monster ratings the year before, the blue-collar comedienne was a hot commodity, but she lacks skill as an actress and possesses little big-screen charisma. Thankfully, her much-publicized pairing with Streep consists of only two brief scenes, and those are uncomfortable to watch. It’s instantly apparent Barr doesn’t belong in the same frame as Streep, and maybe Seidelman wisely realized that early on. Barr isn’t “bad” per se, just dull, and though her one-note portrayal isn’t nearly as lackluster as I remember (until recently, I hadn’t seen ‘She-Devil’ since its initial 1989 release), it still wears thin over time. (It’s no wonder Barr’s subsequent film credits largely consist of voice work for animated characters.)
Though it possesses more bark than bite, ‘She-Devil’ is a pleasant - if uneven - mainstream diversion. It’s too bad Streep couldn’t have chosen a stronger project for her comedic debut, but she makes the most of a less-than-ideal situation. Like many great actresses, she rises above her material and salvages what could have been an unqualified dud. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement, but that’s about all ‘She-Devil’ deserves.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'She-Devil' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
Bright colors and excellent clarity distinguish the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer from Olive Films. 'She-Devil' employs a lush color palette bursting with pinks, lavenders, and other pastels to represent Mary Fisher's lavish, fairy-tale life, and all are beautifully rendered. A faint grain structure adds a bit of texture to the image (Streep's chiffon and satin costumes exhibit a lovely ethereal quality), while solid contrast enhances depth and detail. Though it's far from perfect, the source material looks surprisingly good, with only sporadic speckling marring the picture. Black levels are rich and deep, whites are crisp but never bloom, and natural flesh tones remain stable throughout. Fine shadow delineation keeps crush at bay, background elements are easy to discern, and nicely detailed close-ups highlight Streep's glamour and Barr's decidedly draconian appearance. (Her bulbous mole looks especially repulsive in high-def.) A few artifacts occasionally crop up, but no banding or noise afflict the presentation, and any digital enhancements are seamlessly integrated into the whole. For a B-grade catalogue title, 'She-Devil' exceeds expectations, and fans of Streep, Barr, and this rollicking romp should be pleased with this effort.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track isn't particularly active, but provides clear, well-modulated sound. No age-related imperfections, such as hiss, pops, and crackles, litter this streamlined mix, which flaunts a fair degree of fidelity and tonal depth. Subtle atmospherics come through nicely, sonic accents boast a decent amount of oomph, all the dialogue is easy to comprehend, and Howard Shore's music score fills the room with ease. A comedy like 'She-Devil' won't test the limits of your system, but this no-frills track gets the job done without any fuss.
There are no supplements whatsoever, no even a trailer.
Meryl Streep kicks up her heels and shows her zany side as a pampered diva in 'She-Devil,' and, as always, she nails the role. Though Susan Seidelman's adaptation of Fay Weldon's bestseller doesn't have much sting, it holds up better than anticipated and remains a breezy, somewhat bland revenge romp fueled by a heaping helping of oh-so-'80s female empowerment. Roseanne Barr can't compete with La Streep, but the sterling supporting cast that includes Linda Hunt and Sylvia Miles nicely punches up the proceedings. Olive's Blu-ray presentation contains zero supplements, but solid video and audio transfers make viewing this spritely but forgettable farce a pleasure. 'She-Devil' is a bit dated and has limited appeal, but is still guilty fun for fans of Streep, Barr, and '80s comedies.