She-Devil

Director Susan Seidelman takes aim at the box office with the team of movie queen Meryl Streep and TV slob queen Roseanne Barr. She misfires. Streep gets all the jokes, and Barr, looking stranded, plays it straight. Worse, nobody's bothered to write them a big scene together. But for a while you can see the possibilities. Streep, liberated from the constraints of high drama, has a ball playing romance novelist Mary Fisher, a delicate flower who lives in a lavish Long Island mansion where everything is pink, including the word processor on which she writes about spurting "love nectar."

Barr is Ruth Patchett, a frumpy housewife with two kids and a tax-consultant husband (Ed Begley Jr.) who dumps her for Mary. Out for revenge on hubby, Ruth hooks up with a dwarfish nurse (the superb Linda Hunt) and Mary's aged mom (Sylvia Miles doing Estelle Getty).

Working with a script by Barry Strugatz and Mark Burns, Seidelman enfeebles Fay Weldon's strong 1983 novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil and the fine British miniseries adapted from it in 1987. Weldon indicted both sexes for making women conform to superficial standards. In the book, Ruth endures great pain to have herself surgically transformed into a replica of her nemesis, Mary.

Rich ironies are lost on Seidelman, who fashions another man-hating slapstick to join her Making Mr. Right and Cookie. There's nothing wrong with that: Male directors have been rigging misogynistic films for ages. But rancor without purpose soon grows tiresome. Seidelman creates a so-called happy ending in which an honest woman learns to deceive, use makeup and make her husband crawl. In the process, a provocative work of fiction loses its power and its point.

From The Archives Issue 402: August 18, 1983
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