23 September 2001 | citrohan
In defense of She Devil
Reading the comments for this film, two aspects appear as the concentration to the films perceived flaws. The one is a lack of sympathy for Roseanne's character, Ruth. The other is a lack of appreciation for Meryl Streep's performance. Having watched this film many times since it's release, I think I can safely dispute this argument.
This film certainly I feel has all the markings of a cult favorite. It's dark humor, over charged performances as well as the overall look and feel wedges it someplace between "Heathers" and "Ruthless People". More on the nuances that I feel set this film apart from others later, but lets first deal with the Roseann/Streep problem.
Quite frankly, I see no problem. Meryl Streep's Mary Fisher is one of the screens funniest inventions. It seems quite clear to me that she enjoyed playing this role because there is no other way such a wonderful performance could have been created. On a number of occasions, there are lengthy shots with no change of camera where she drives through a range of hilarious emotions. How she handles a scene involving a dog licking her feet while she awakes is tremendous. I feel it is one of her strongest performances; she never turns it off, and always delivers it in the correct dosage.
The issue with Roseanne's character, Ruth, is she is seen as manipulative, uncaring, a monster hell bent on revenge. Ruth, like everything else in this picture is a caricature. This is very much the sort of role we would expect from Roseanne, the domestic goddess taking it all a step further. True, she does wallow in a mean spirited negativity, but it results in a positive outcome for nearly all involved. She takes control of her life and liberates Linda Hunts Nurse Hopper as well as countless women through her Vespa Rose Employment Agency. She returns life to the geriatrics in her care at a nursing home. As a result of Ruth's revenge, Mary Fisher at last becomes recognized as the serious writer she wished to from the start. We even know that Begley's Bob Patchett gets his comeuppance, and accepts it with grace and humility.
There are dozens of touches brought here which make this a movie so enjoyable to watch. Firstly, there is the remarkable physical change in many of the characters as the story progresses. Roseanne goes from looking like a reject from a freak show to a rather zaftig Joan Collins. Linda Hunt and Sylvia Miles likewise transform, and Streep goes from a pink, frosted confection of a romance novelist, to a black turtle necked, bespectacled writer with a gift for the "post modern metaphor". A certain tone is set when the establishing shot of Mary Fisher "pink palace by the sea" reveals her initials, M F, emblazoned on the massive gate. Streep is given countless occasions to do great business for the camera, as in a scene where her complete lack of comprehension in doing laundry leads her to put half a gallon of bleach and several dryer sheets in a washing machine. Best of all, she manages to give the finger to the "serious critics" while on the Sally Jesse Raphale Show. I honestly don't feel this film is as bad as many would like one to think. If you sit back, and let it unfold as I believe it was intended to, you will find a clever picture that has just the correct amount of overarched villainy and cynicism as many of our favorite black comedies.