I can't say that I expected all that much from a film like She-Devil, I simply had my hopes that the central two actresses would deliver effective comedic results with strong performances. Unfortunately, I forgot about the idea that they would need sufficient material to sustain them because I expected too much from them.
The plot in She-Devil is a familiar revenge tale. Set in a context where the main character is on a quest for revenge against her adulterous ex-husband, it feels like the material should be a lot funnier than it actually is. But working against the potential of the film to have a legitimately satirical edge, the tone of She-Devil is rather strange. The premise itself is a rather bleak one and the film embraces this at some moments with a use of melodrama, but it also adheres to a conventional sitcom style of delivery much of the time. In that sense the film inconsistently oscillates between being lighthearted one second and dark the next, and the fact that the overall narrative causes a conflict between two moods essentially disjoints the film. The musical score can hardly choose which of these to subscribe to either, even though it is all composed very nicely. Oddly enough, this is actually the only one technical aspect of She-Devil which actually does any good for the film.
The production values feel like that of a TV movie. Aside from the aforementioned musical score, the overall style of the film feels rather cheap. Clearly a low-budget film, She-Devil takes place in a very small collection of settings with a touch of repetition and occasionally cheap green-screen effects. There is certainly no sense of life that comes from the visual experience of the film for many reasons. Most notably, the cinematography fails to do any justice to the cast because though the extended shots show the way that the actors have worked their material out extensively, the angles are too simplistic to bring any imagery into the film. For one thing, the camera never emphasizes the facial expressions of the characters and instead keeps audiences at a distance from them which ultimately prevents the results from reaching greater potential. And considering that She-Devil boasts the presence of critically acclaimed actress Meryl Streep in a major role, it just goes to show that director Susan Seidelman takes her for granted through shoddy character treatment.
The two main female characters are both victims and criminals. One is a suffering housewife who takes out an extensive revenge scheme on the woman who stole her husband, while the other is the woman herself who becomes the victim of it all while the baggage of the husband she stole is dumped on her. Either way, both characters are guilty and are pitted against each other as a result of a cheating husband who is the one true villain of the story. It leaves me unsure who to sympathize for because they are essentially both victims and perpetrators, yet the overtly thin nature of the script fails to breathe any innovative life into the efforts of the cast.
And ultimately, She-Devil ends on a note where little has happened. Because the story spends so much time building up a revenge scheme, it ultimately has a very simplistic ending. Without developing the story pretty much anywhere, it ends just short of what is usually the midpoint of a sensible narrative. In that sense, She-Devil ultimately feels like an extended trailer for a movie that never happened. This left the experience rather pointless, and the fact that I didn't find myself laughing along the way meant that She-Devil failed to appeal to me either as a comedy or a genuine narrative piece. In that regard, the film just failed as a whole.
But I will admit that the novelty of the cast members had some slight gimmicks to it.
Having long been a fan of Rosanne Barr for her work on the sitcom Roseanne, the idea of seeing her on the cinematic screen certainly appealed to me. Unfortunately, the material is clearly not up to her standard. The film attempts to find more humour in its ridiculous plot than in the genuine antics of Rosanne Barr which just goes to show that the feature is a wasted opportunity. Although the woman's natural persona has a certain level of appeal to me as a fan, I just found that I was never laughing about anything she did in this movie.
Meryl Streep doesn't necessarily offer innovation either. As Rosanne Barr is the star of She-Devil, Meryl Streep is reduced to playing second fiddle to a comedian this time, even though she is given the arguably funnier character. The presence of Meryl Streep elevates She-Devil beyond being an overly simplistic comedy feature simply because her presence is a novelty. Meryl Streep approaches her role like she's on a soap opera, combining over the top physical actions with a tone of voice which never breaks past its one-dimensional nature. Because of that, her restrained attitude adds a sense of intentional artificiality to the character and embodies the stereotype of a hollow novelist for an esoteric and libido-driven audience. She has some ridiculously over the top moments which are a nice contrast to the more subtle persona as well, so there are certainly some spirited charms about her.
Ed Begley Jr. is convincing in his part, but he is stuck with a repetitive and unlikable character which provides no boost to his credibility in the end.
So She-Devil does have a talented duo of lead actresses as its gimmick, but the underdeveloped story is as weak as the TV movie production values which ultimately leads to a comedy film short on both laughs and intelligent thought, failing to utilize two incredibly acclaimed actresses.
Based on Fay Weldon's novel 'The Life and Loves of a She-Devil', which had previously been made into a British mini-series in 1983.