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Film / She-Devil

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Revenge is sweet... and low.

"The story of the greatest evil known to man... his ex-wife."

She-Devil is a 1989 comedy film directed by Susan Seidelman and starring Roseanne Barr, Meryl Streep, and Ed Begley, Jr., based loosely on the 1983 English novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon, and a British miniseries the novel also spawned.

Ruth Patchett (Barr) is a frumpy housewife and mother of two whose accountant husband, Bob (Begley), is an opportunist whose affection she is desperate for. He meets romance novelist Mary Fisher (Streep) at a banquet and makes her a client, becoming very friendly with her in the process... too friendly. After Ruth gets fed up with Bob's infidelity and general poor treatment of her, she schemes and plans her ultimate revenge against him, which ends up to be a long, complicated, and darkly funny process.

It received mixed reviews at the time of release, with criticism mostly going to Roseanne's performance (or the fact that she was cast at all alongside Meryl Streep) and deviations from the original story, but presently is somewhat of a cult classic.



  • Acceptable Targets: An extremely subtle theme to this movie and its frame of time is its knocking of the 1980s East Coast yuppie lifestyle, not unlike National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or Vampire's Kiss, and it going into marriage. While Ruth is a middle class housewife, Bob's work life as a high profile accountant has him veer close to the rich socialite world of New York City, which is where he meets and starts an affair with Mary Fisher. Becoming estranged and far out of touch from his family due to this, Ruth begins to knock him down several pegs just to show how far to the sun he's flown to not realize that he's about to lose his wings and crash back to earth.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the original The Life and Loves of a She-Devil book, Ruth has completely changed herself into the image of Mary Fisher, who's passed away from cancer, and Ruth anxiously awaits Bobbo's release so she can have the chance to "control" him using her new image. By the end of this movie, Ruth has merely given herself a more glamorous makeover, Bob has learned a hard lesson to be a better family man, and Mary Fisher is still alive and well and has gone on to other things.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • Minor example: Bob was named "Bobbo" in the book. Nicolette was also named "Nicola".
    • Mary Fisher's mother was named "Pearl" in the book; here, she's given the name "Francine".
    • Sexy Secretary Elsie Flowers was renamed to the equally-cutesy "Olivia Honey" for the movie.
    • Nurse Hopkins is renamed "Nurse Hooper".
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: To a minor degree, given that Ruth is supposed to be an unattractive character no matter the adaptation, but in the book she's made out to be an abnormally tall and manly-looking Gonk. Here she's just a fat, frumpy housewife.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Mary Fisher. She's from New Jersey, has the last name "Fisher", and Mrs. Fisher mentioned Mr. Fisher having been a "Kosher butcher from Hoboken" in life.
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Mary gives one to Nicolette when the younger girl sasses her back, this is enough to give the normally defiant and disobedient girl to get out the room.
  • Asshole Victim: Bob and Mary.
  • Batman Gambit: Ruth's revenge is assisted by Bob's continual infidelity and his embezzlement of his own clients. Ruth merely brings Bob's crimes to light, and prevents him from using his lawyer's plan that would ensure a Miscarriage of Justice.
  • Best Served Cold: From beginning to end, it likely takes Ruth more than a year to get even with Bob.
  • Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: The posh Golden Twilight Home where the occupants are abandoned by their families and are given sedatives to keep them docile and unaware of their situation as long as they don't wet the bed; Ruth changes that.
  • Brainy Brunette: Ruth proves to be this in the film. Nurse Hooper also counts in this regard since she's been accumulating a lot of money and built a successful business with Ruth.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Ruth and Bob's children, Nicolette and Andrew. They start out the film being smart-mouthed and whiny, with a scene where Andrew is punching holes in the Dairy aisle of the supermarket. Their behavior only helps out in Ruth's plan to ruin Mary Fisher's life.
    • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Nicolette is closer to this age. While she was merely snarky with her mom, she drives Mary crazy.
  • Broken Pedestal: Ruth was a fan of Mary Fisher's work before Bob started sleeping with her.
  • Cheek Copy: After manipulating Bob's ex-secretary/lover into breaking into Bob's office, Ruth finds these sort of pictures in his file... and mails them to Mary. What gave him away was that his hands were visible in the pictures... and he was still wearing the distinctive ring Mary gave him.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Vesta Rose's first client, a mousy woman whose husband had just left her and who has experience in clerical work. She gets a job as a court clerk and happily switches Bob's case to an unbiased judge instead of the judge that his lawyer bribed at Ruth's request.
  • Commitment Issues: Bob has them.
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Fisher, Mary's mother, to Bob and the Patchett children.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Bob, in a subtle running gag.
  • Creator Breakdown: In-Universe, this happens to Mary halfway through the movie.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ruth. Bob as well, though he's a bit nastier about it.
  • Death Glare: Nicolette gives her father and Mary one when Ruth drops her and her brother off at Mary's house and they catch the two of them getting frisky in the pool.
    Nicolette: (frostily) Hi, daddy.
  • Dirty Old Woman: Mrs. Fisher.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Played with—adultery doesn't justify the length Ruth goes to ruin Bob's life, but considering his long-time embezzlement of his clients, he genuinely does deserve his stint in prison, and likely would not have ever been found out if not for Ruth.
  • Dumb Blonde: Played with. Olivia Honey may be ditzy, but she is a good secretary and helped Ruth get Bob get arrested for embezzlement; Bob is clueless as hell yet is a brilliant White Collar criminal and Mary Fisher is Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense but built up a literary empire.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After blowing up Bob's house, Ruth literally starts all over again as a working woman, all the while earning cohorts and friends along her path of revenge. This tallies up into the Vesta Rose Employment Agency founded by her and Nurse Hooper, allowing them to outreach to women who don't meet the standards of the worst aspects of patriarchy to give them a legit working chance and teach them the necessary skills to survive on their own and in the workplace. As Ruth's agency allows her to infiltrate and finish up the last steps of her revenge, she and Hooper are both in the money and are successful entrepreneurs and humanitarians who become the women they needed in their lives to other disadvantaged women everywhere. With Bob, she successfully sends him to a year and a half of hard time in prison to teach him the follies of being a materialistic jerk, and breaks him to be a better husband and father and person to his family.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Bob really loves golden-haired women. Mary Fisher, Olivia Honey, and a random woman in traffic.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The head of Golden Twilight Home, the Bleak Abyss Retirement Home where Mary's mother is sent back from, tells off Mary that her mother needs tender care and love. They may sedate and keep their tenants in a drug induced lull as if they're going to heaven that soon as if they're going to travel into space via cryrostasis, but by damn it does she have a point.
  • Exiled to the Couch: Played with. Bob merely doesn't spend the night with Ruth after his affair with Mary starts; after an argument with Mary, he moves himself to the couch when she starts whining for him to stay home more. Played straight after Mary loses it and found out about an affair he had with Olivia Honey, she whispers he's "still on probation".
  • Favors for the Sexy: Gets Olivia Honey hired right away. Earlier in the film, Bob lets Mary sit up front with him in the car while Ruth sits in the back and has to walk four blocks to their house.
  • The Film of the Book: Of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by feminist author Fay Weldon.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: In order to expose Bob's embezzlement, Ruth and a secretary transfer several times more money to his bank account than he was skimming off. Ruth describes in narration that she "wasn't framing Bob, just making his thievery more obvious."
  • Full-Name Basis: Most characters, especially Ruth, refer to Mary by her full name.
  • Gold Digger:
    • Bob, a rare male example.
    • Olivia Honey, a client of Ruth's agency who eventually becomes Bob's secretary, states in her video interview that her dream is to marry a rich and powerful man.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Ruth, after years of hard work and devotion as a housewife run ragged by old age and the toils of responsibility, snaps into vigilantism upon her husband outright cheating on her, admitting to it, and not bearing any remorse or gratitude to her at the end of it, and not even asking for a divorce at that. From that point on, it's not just revenge; it's also about dragging Bob and even Mary into the mud and giving both of them a hard dose of reality with many lessons to think about in the end.
  • Hired for Their Looks: Olivia Honey. Bob asks for a very attractive secretary and Ruth notes it's important to pair the right employee (bubbly and pretty Gold Digger) with the right boss.
  • Hot Guy, Ugly Wife: Bob and Ruth. He's of the classic, blond good looks that entice Mary Fisher and many other women while Ruth looks like Roseanne at her worst, has awful clothing, a messy hairdo, and an unsightly mole.
  • Hourglass Plot: Ruth effectively switches places with Mary and Bob by the end of the story. This theme is even stronger in the book, where more emphasis is placed on Ruth's envy of Mary and her glamorous life than revenge on Bob.
  • The "I Love You" Stigma: Experienced by poor Olivia Honey after she confesses her love to Bob, she gets fired and accused of sleeping her way to the top.
  • Ironic Hell: Figuratively, and what Ruth's plan all is meant to lead up to.
  • Large Ham: Meryl Streep's performance as Mary Fisher is Grade A.
  • Let's See YOU Do Better!: As revenge is made to be extremely cold ala froid by Ruth's preparation, first she unloads onto Bob and Mary the responsibility of raising their children, taking care of Mary's mother, and the rigors of everyday life in a typical married household into Mary's Pink Palace By The Sea. This brilliantly destroys all glamour and prestige of their relationship, showing how much of an underprepared and irresponsible woman Mary is in the face of family life to Bob, and establishes the ground to let Mary knows how it feels like to be on the receiving end of Bob's cheating ways.
  • Meganekko: Mary, when she becomes a "serious" writer and wears glasses. Whether she needs them or are Purely Aesthetic Glasses is up to the viewer.
  • Missing Mom: As part of her plan, Ruth drops off her children with Bob and Mary and vanishes from their lives until the end.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Garcia, Mary's butler, is shirtless most of the time he appears.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Or the title for that matter. Being the "greatest evil to husbands everywhere" would count if Bob wasn't an ungrateful affair turning husband who only sees his family as a necessary ball and chain and only sees them when he needs to rest and eat.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Inverted. Compared to Bob, his parents are practically saints to Ruth during their family dinner, especially his mother, who tells Bob "Marriage is never easy" when he flips out.
  • Only One Name: Hooper. The movie's vague on whether it's her first name or last.
  • Pink Means Feminine: Part of the Color Motif and Mary's favorite color, which is fitting with her dainty and romantic interests. Her lipstick, house, decor, clothing, etc. are all in pink; even her spectacles at the end are pink tinted. Ruth takes up this color after settling in as a successful businesswoman.
  • Potty Failure: Not allowed at the Golden Twilight Home. Ruth makes it seem as though Mrs. Fisher has had "long-term leakage" in order to get her kicked out of said retirement home, so she can stay with Mary Fisher permanently.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Ruth, Nurse Hooper, and the women of the Vesta Rose Employment agency. These are women without much education, love, looks, brains, work experience, self-esteem, reputation, money, in other words, they are in the lowest rung of the ladder. They become rather handy in furthering Ruth's revenge.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Bob gives one to Ruth after a disastrous visit from his parents, invoking the movie's title. This also leads to the start of Ruth's Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Red Is Heroic: At the end, Ruth is strutting down the streets of New York City with quite a lot of women in red work clothes around her. This scene is supposed to be a nod to women's empowerment.
  • Rich Bitch: Mary Fisher.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Mary Fisher. Despite a blue collar background, she doesn't know how to wash clothes properly; she dumps in fabric softener sheets and bleach in the washer.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The entire plot.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Mary Fisher's mother, once Ruth switches her sedatives with stimulants.
  • Sexy Secretary: Bob has a pack of very attractive women as his secretaries. Later when he gets wealthier, he even demands a secretary with very good looks.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Played with. Ruth and the women in the Vesta Rose commercial aren't exactly turned into beauty queens as a result of being "cleaned up", but it does reflect a higher sense of worth and savviness along with success and stylish clothing.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Bob claims his marriage to Ruth was one.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Mary Fisher, who dies of cancer in the book.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Ruth's alias of "Vista Rose" in the book is instead spelled "Vesta Rose" here.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Not overtly stated, but it's obvious who is left with the responsibilities of running a household and taking care of the children... and it's not Bob.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Ruth blows up the Patchett household in order to make the kids stay with Bob and Mary Fisher at her "palace by the sea".
  • Tastes Like Friendship: Ruth wins over Nurse Hooper by sharing her cupcakes.
  • Teen Pregnancy: According to her mother, Mary Fisher was impregnated at 16 years old, and ended up putting her son up for adoption.
  • True Blue Femininity:
    • Mary takes up this color after leaving Bob and romance novels behind, to mark her as a "serious" writer. Even her "docu-novel" is in blue.
    • Ruth's hostess dress (before her Roaring Rampage of Revenge) is a powder blue chiffon number, symbolizing her trying to be the perfect housewife.
  • Truth in Television: Meryl Streep has humorously admitted that the breaking point moment of the movie of Mary with her mother and Ruth and Bob's kids after finding out about Bob's latest affair takes inspiration from needing to discipline her own real life kids in an Extra! interview.
  • Ugly Hero, Good-Looking Villain: With the overweight and homely Ruth to the slim and beautiful Mary Fisher.
  • Ugly Lady's Cute Children: Not a plot point, but obviously the Patchett children get more of their looks from Bob.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Bob, which comes to a head during the dinner with his parents. He shows up an hour late after spending the day with Mary, complains about the food Ruth has prepared, seems more concerned with her nearly dropping a tray on the floor than Ruth faceplanting, doesn't help her or allow his mother to help Ruth when she offers, then complains about how she's an awful wife and mother before driving off to live with Mary. All this starts Ruth's Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Unwanted Spouse: According to Bob, it was a Shotgun Wedding.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to Nurse Hooper after she and Ruth start the employment agency? She's seen in a commercial advertising the service and that's the last she's mentioned.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Nicolette. She doubts a "smooth, seductive mushroom soup" will bring her father home away from Mary Fisher.
  • Woman Scorned: Ruth, obviously.
  • Yandere


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