I can’t believe this movie isn’t on DVD, it’s really a shame because it’s totally underrated and deserves to be viewed by a new generation. Thank goodness it is now streaming on Netflix for your enjoyment, so don’t miss out!
Loosely based on the novel by Fay Weldon, She-Devil gives us the story of Ruth Patchett (Roseanne) a clueless, frumpy, housewife in 1980s suburbia. She is verbally abused and neglected by her husband Bob (Ed Begley Jr.), and finally snaps when she can no longer ignore his blatant affair with romance novelist Mary Fisher (Meryl Streep). In a rage, Ruth vows to destroy all of her husband’s “assets” as he calls them. She burns down their house, drops the kids off with Bob at his mistress’s pink mansion, and heads off to start a new life driven by revenge.
As Ruth’s plans succeed, Mary’s life begins to crumble. Mary wanted Bob, and now she has him—and his children, and his infidelity, and thanks to Ruth, Mary’s loud-mouthed, elderly mother (who Mary had been keeping sedated at Golden Twilight Nursing home for years) shows up on her door step as well.
As Mary’s life falls apart, Ruth’s life blossoms, she renames herself Vesta Rose and opens a women’s employment agency with her friend Hooper (Linda Hunt). The Vesta Rose agency helps “women who the world threw away” by turning them into successful, strong, working women. At the same time, these women provide Ruth with an army that aids her in achieving vengeance over those who’ve wronged her, so she is doing good while doing bad.
She-Devil is, more than anything else, a film about fantasy. Mary writes bodice ripping romance novels and delivers her own fantasy to a legion of women who need the escape. Ruth herself once bought into Mary’s novels, but when her reality comes into sharp focus she brings Mary’s world crashing down to Earth along with her, bursting her pink bubble of fantasy by delivering Mary the responsibilities and stresses most of her readers are all too familiar with.
I honestly don’t think this film would work without Meryl Streep, you have to respect a woman who after winning a couple of Oscars, decides to do a movie like this one. I’m sure there are tons of critics who think it’s ridiculous, but there is no way you can watch this movie and not think Meryl is having a ball playing the ridiculous, vain, selfish, Mary Fisher. She gives a flamboyantly funny performance and when you’re as good an actress as she is, you can choose the roles you want to play without worrying that you won’t be taken seriously—and besides, being funny is a whole heck of a lot harder than being serious any day.
In essence, She-Devil is the ultimate revenge fantasy of every wronged woman. Ruth not only gives back what she got and them some, but she embraces her freedom and starts a new life by helping other women who’ve been abused and beaten down. Ruth’s wrath doesn’t burn her up, it renews her, she rises up from the ashes of her old life, and finds a new purpose. She doesn’t find a prince charming, and she does use other people to serve herself, but it’s almost refreshing to see that in a film, especially since nowadays every comedy seems so moralistic. All the characters do despicable things, they’re cliches—but sometimes we all are, so why not have a laugh about it?
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