Streepathon Stop #7: She-Devil
"My books reflect my own experience of lovemaking as sacred and beautiful, something to be shared and treasured." -Mary Fisher
Time: 1989 (16th film)
Role: Mary Fisher, rich, beautiful and sexy romance novelist
Awards: GG (comedy) nomination
Fun Fact #1: This was Meryl's first attempt broad comedy (at least on film), to be followed later by Death Becomes Her (1992) and Prime (2005), among others. It is still generally considered her most low-brow effort to date.
Fun Fact #2: The name of Streep's character in She-Devil (Mary Fisher) is strikingly similar to the name of the writer of her follow-up film (Carrie Fisher, on whom Streep's Postcards character is loosely based).
Fun Fact #3: The book on which She-Devil is based has a very different and far more disturbing ending. In it, Mary Fisher dies of cancer, and her rival Ruth Patchett (played in the film by Roseanne Barr) has extensive plastic surgery in order to make herself look like Mary, including having having her leg bones surgically shortened via chopping.
The Trailer: It's a hoot. Have a look:
Film Review: This one falls squarely in the "guilty pleasure" column. I wouldn't say it's a very good film, per se. It's definitely the least impressive in the Streepathon so far, in terms of sheer quality. But I can't say I didn't enjoy it. And for Meryl Streep completists, it's a must. In She-Devil, she vamps it up like never before as a beautiful, famous romance novelist with a pet poodle and a house that's entirely pink (you can tell she was really trying to subvert her "prestige" dramatic queen image).
But despite how it seems, Meryl's Mary Fisher is not the She-Devil of the title. The film's titular character (and protagonist) is Roseanne Barr's dowdy, fat Ruth Patchett, the woman whose husband Mary steals at the beginning of the film. Ruth's titular status is confirmed when her husband (played by Ed Begley Jr.) gets fed up and tells her: "You're a SHE-DEVIL!". The rest of the story mostly revolves around Ruth's antics in exacting revenge on him and Mary.
Unfortunately, the film incorporates a lot of lazy voiceover by Barr (made even worse by her lazy acting) and generally gives off whiffs of mediocrity. It's also rather hard to believe that Ed Begley Jr. would be married to Roseanne Barr, and also that Meryl Streep would be attracted to Ed Begley Jr. (he differences in relative attractiveness are striking). Plus, the film somehow manages to feel long at just over 90 minutes. So that's not good.
But if you like bitchy catfights, this film's for you. And Streep as a catfighting bitch is quite the spectacle. Add in some kitchy music, Mary's Latin manservant "Garcia," and enjoyable supporting performances by Linda Hunt, Mary Louise Fisher and others, and you've got yourself a film that's lots of fun, if a bit pedestrian. I can't wholeheartedly recommend it, but it is worth seeing for the "kitchy and bitchy" factor. I prefer to think of it not as a blot on Meryl's resumé, but rather as a fun diversion from all her prestigious, "serious" films.
Streep Review: Hee. It is great fun to watch Meryl strut around in pink, stealing men. There were times, however, when I found her a bit "over the top." It's obvious that she was working hard to play against type (her "type" being subtle, graceful performances of lovable characters). Still, I can't really fault her for going all-out in her big chance to be silly. And her comic timing is impeccable, as always, whether she's having loud sex or spouting a one-liner.
It's interesting, actually, that Meryl went over the top here, since Roseanne is decidedly "under" the top. And by that, I don't mean to say that she exercises restraint; it's more that she just resorts to her trademark style of "be your wry, bitchy self while reciting lines." Pretty lazy acting. I do love Roseanne on Roseanne, but she can't just be "Roseanne" in everything she does and call it good acting. Maybe Meryl knew Roseanne was phoning it in, and wanted to overact to balance it out?
In any case, I'd rank this awkward entry into comedy below Streep's later comedic high points in Postcards from the Edge, Death Becomes Her, Adaptation, Prime and most recently, The Devil Wears Prada. But her Mary Fisher is still very funny, and there's a certain pleasure in seeing Streep in the part that wouldn't have been there with, say, Kristin Chenoweth or Scarlett Johannson or any typical "blonde bombshell" in the role. Casting against type yields nice rewards, and Meryl's the best thing about the film.
Next in the marathon: Death Becomes Her