She-Devil (1989) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexuality, some violence, and language
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: Roseanne Barr, Meryl Streep, Ed Begley Jr., Linda Hunt, Sylvia Miles, Elisabeth Peters, Bryan Larkin, A Martinez, Maria Pitillo, Robin Leach, Sally Jessy Raphael (cameo)
Director: Susan Seidelman
Screenplay: Barry Strugatz, Mark R. Burns (from the novel, "The Life and Loves of a She-Devil" by Fay Weldon)
Roseanne Barr ("Roseanne", Blue in the Face) stars as Ruth Pratchett, a devoted wife to her accountant hubby Bob (Begley Jr., Protocol), and mother to two precocious children. One day while attending a swank party, Bob meets and eventually has a fling with best-selling romance novelist Mary Fisher (Streep, Manhattan), and while they do their best to keep things under wraps, Ruth knows better. As their marriage falls apart, Ruth vows revenge, and set about destroying all of the things good old Bob and his mistress hold dear.
With an interesting cast and a funny premise, loosely derived from Fay Weldon's novel, 'The Life and Loves of a She-Devil", this would seem like a cant-miss comedy, especially as we watch popular TV star Roseanne in a role that would allow her to cut loose as a comedic actress. However, the comic juice runs out surprisingly early in this misfire, as we watch the characters run through predictable motions, and eventually, the noise and mayhem run rampant without the necessary laughs to go along with them.
Part of the problem is the casting of Roseanne, as she doesn't appear to have the screen presence or comic charisma to truly take hold of this movie and run with it, letting comic turns by Begley, Streep and just about everyone else in the supporting cast, carry the load of getting some laughs, although the script doesn't exactly give them much material to work with. Streep would receive a Golden Globe nomination for her surprisingly robust comic performance; it's a shame it mostly went to waste in such a misfire.
Feminist leanings in the material could have provided a strong backbone to build a satire around, but Seidelman (Gaudi Afternoon, Desperately Seeking Susan) directs the film as if it were a broad farce, and whatever intelligence it might have had gets sucked out for cheap confrontations to evoke a few chuckles. Championing the cause of the unattractive and unloved should have made Ruth a natural heroine, and yet, it's not easy to sympathize with a character so obviously artificial in the broadest of ways. The crazed antics shoot for the moon but She-Devil never manages to get off the ground.
©2006 Vince Leo