When one thinks of outstanding achievement in the field of acting, and when the names of the world’s greatest thespians are bandied about, it won’t take long before Meryl Streep is mentioned. Streep has won three Academy Awards over the course of her celebrated career, with an additional fourteen nominations to boot. An actress of her caliber commands high salaries, and by all rights, should be completely insulated from having to do terrible movies… right?
By that logic, hopping onto Netflix’s Watch Instantly service and selecting 1989’s She-Devil sight unseen should be a disaster-free proposition… right? Oh how very, very wrong. The film was released the year after her Oscar-nominated performance in A Cry in the Dark, so it’s not as if we’re talking about her humble beginnings here. Sometimes, in order to effectively note the merits of an actor’s/actress’ great films, you have to juxtapose them against the less-than-stellar titles; sort of the way you can’t appreciate good wine until you’ve had bad wine. Here’s why She-Devil is of particularly sour vintage.
James Bond fans may initially be pleased to see Harold “Oddjob” Sakata getting more work as the star of the film. That is, until they realize it’s actually Roseanne Barr. Barr is at particularly elevated frump levels as the beleaguered housewife, who is also evidently being attacked by a lip-perched bon-bon. Someone apparently thought Barr was too attractive and needed a facial eyesore to convince the audience that maybe she wasn’t a catch. Her husband in the film, played by Ed Begley, Jr., cheats on her with a novelist (Streep) who specializes in trashy romance; think Fifty Shades of Grey before Fifty Shades of Grey. This infidelity incurs a Biblical caliber wrath.
The first thing that might strike you about She-Devil, besides Barr’s mammoth mole, is that it’s not the laugh riot it strives to be. In fact, the movie has all the comedic appeal of an episode of Jerry Springer. It may elicit a giggle or two at first, but ultimately it just makes you sad for the human race. There’s dark comedy, and then there’s ugly for the sake of funny. Perhaps if She-Devil could have been classified as funny at any point, it would be easier to abide the rampant cruelty toward the elderly, the instances of young girls being exploited by photographers and grinded upon by grown men, and the concept that a father spending time with his kids is abject punishment for his transgressions. By the end, you’ll be sob-laughing all the way to the shower.
One must wonder about the intended audience for an infernally bad film such as She-Devil. It’s not exactly a romantic comedy, as it is neither romantic nor comical. It sort of touts itself as a women-getting-even farce, but it’s not the feminist slam-dunk it purports to be. It creates a world where there are only two types of women: incompetent, sex-crazed narcissists like Streep, and troll-like, vindictive mothers who put getting revenge over their own children. At one point, it looks as if it’s righting the ship tonally. Barr and the principal from Kindergarten Cop set up a haven for mistreated women. This, however, turns out to be a means for furthering Barr’s vengeance against her philandering husband. All so she can eventually open the door for their reconciliation? Remember ladies, there is no man so awful that a regiment of life-crushing acts of pettiness can’t fix. Wait, what?
Take this grimy, poorly-conceived concept and pepper it with plenty of inexplicable editing, performances hammier than a Subway party platter, and one of the most inexcusably bad covers of “I Will Survive” ever heard, and you’ve got a sense of what makes She-Devil such a torment to sit through. For all her skills, Streep can’t pull this movie out of its nosedive. Her character is so weak and one-dimensional that Streep seems utterly wasted. But again, this only reinforces and enhances the quality of her better films.
[Photo Credit: Orion Pictures]