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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 generally poor treatment of her, she schemes and plans her ultimate revenge against him, which ends up being 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.


  • 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 named "Nicola".
    • Mary Fisher's mother was named "Pearl" in the book; here, she's given the name "Francine". In a Freeze-Frame Bonus, however, the People magazine article written about Mary reveals "Pearl" to be her mother's middle name.
    • 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 and has the last name "Fisher", and Mrs. Fisher mentioned Mr. Fisher having been a "Kosher butcher from Hoboken" in life. In addition, in the Freeze-Frame Bonus of the magazine cover, Mrs. Fisher's maiden name is listed as "Hoffman".
  • Asshole Victim: Bob and Mary.
    • Mary met Ruth and Bob at a party, and Ruth was introduced to her as Bob's wife. Yet she agrees to screw around with Bob, even though Ruth has not given explicit permission for the affair or for an open marriage in general. She also locked her mother away in a nursing home -an expensive one, but one that kept its patients regularly mildly sedated to avoid problems.
    • It's implied during the dinner with his parents that Bob got Ruth pregnant and his or their parents made him marry Ruth. Instead of at least trying to be polite about the awkward situation, he treats her like a glorified housekeeper and screws around on her all the time, even as he has another kid with her. Ruth is able to recite his most common excuses from memory when trying to explain to the kids why their dad didn't come home after the party the night before. When Ruth takes a bad fall during the dinner with his parents, he's more concerned about her embarrassing them even as his mother runs to help Ruth and his father shows signs of concern. He leaves Ruth that night with a massive Reason You Suck speech -but he pushes the wrong buttons.
  • 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.
  • Big SHUTUP: Mary loses her usual ladylike composure when her mother exposes her real age.
    Mrs Fisher: Bullshit! I remember everything. I remember when you were just a teenager...
    Mary: That's it, Mother. Nobody’s interested in what you remember, so just SHUT UP!
  • 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. She makes a reasonably complex and long-running plan to take down Bob. She doesn't even know what steps she'll take after the first four or five; she takes things as they come and takes advantage of new factors as they show up. Ruth didn't know about Bob's embezzling when he walked out, but when she found out, she spun it into a major step in her takedown plan. She and Hooper also started a successful job placement business.
    • Nurse Hooper also counts in this regard; she's been accumulating a lot of money by being frugal, taking advantage of the room and board benefits her job offers, and building a successful business with Ruth. She also spotted Ruth's plan to make the residents of the nursing home more comfortable, happier, and less sedated even though the head of the place didn't spot it even when the residents were playing soccer in the yard.
  • 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 Bob's new life, with Mary Fisher as splash damage.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Nicolette is closer to this age. While she is merely snarky with her mom, she drives Mary crazy after the loss of the Patchett family home and her and her brother having to move in with her dad and Mary.
  • Broken Pedestal: Ruth was a fan of Mary Fisher's work before Bob started sleeping with her.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Olivia Honey is a ditzy and self-admitted Gold Digger, but she's also a competent data processor who knew about Bob's embezzlement and helped Ruth bring him down by making it look like he was stealing more money than he did.
  • Cheek Copy: After manipulating Bob's ex-secretary/lover into breaking into Bob's office, Ruth finds these sorts of pictures in his files... 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 at Ruth's request happily switches Bob's case to an unbiased judge instead of the judge that his lawyer bribed.
  • Commitment Issues: Bob has them.
    Ruth: How can telling a man that you love him possibly scare him off?
  • Cool Old Lady: Mrs. Fisher, Mary's mother, to Bob and the Patchett children. It tips into problematic when she allows Andrew to have alcohol when she has neither the legal authority to do so and doesn't monitor his intake.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Bob, in a subtle running gag. He doesn't put it on the right temperature or leave it in for the right time. It makes his criticism of Ruth's cooking seem very hypocritical.
  • Creator Breakdown: In-Universe, this happens to Mary halfway through the movie. Her life is so messed up by Ruth's maneuvering to get Bob she can't write her usual steamy romance novels set in exotic locations, instead producing Love in the Rinse Cycle. It contains a whole chapter on doing laundry -which Mary had long forgotten how to do.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Ruth. Since she's been a little mouse to Bob through the first part of the movie, he is shocked when she drops the kids off at the Fisher house after the loss of the Patchett home and unloads on him on her way out.
    • Bob as well, though he's a bit nastier about it. His snide comments to Ruth about how he sees her various inadequacies border on the verbally abusive.
  • 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. The news reporter who came to interview Mary gets a full rundown of what Francine knows of Mary's love life previous to Mary moving away from home.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Played with—adultery and even his cruel Reason You Suck Speech to Ruth don't justify the length Ruth goes to ruin Bob's life, but considering his long-time embezzlement of his clients (including Mary, whom he also cheated on), 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 to get Bob arrested for embezzlement.
    • Bob is clueless as hell yet is a brilliant white-collar criminal. He was only caught because he didn't get the keys back from Olivia when he fired her or change the office's computer passwords, allowing Olivia and Ruth to make his embezzling more... obvious.
    • Mary Fisher is Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense but built up a literary empire, and maneuvered a contract where she gets to choose who publishes her books. This is impressive in the publishing world.
  • 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 to the Vesta Rose Employment Agency founded by her and Nurse Hooper, allowing them to reach 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, father, and person to his family.
  • Ends with a Smile: The movie ends with Ruth smiling triumphantly as she walks through crowds of other women on the city street, apparently indistinguishable from them despite the plan she enacted.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Mary immediately fires Garcia and throws him out of her house when she sees him inappropriately dancing with Nicolette.
    • Garcia as well. Mary went from using him as a torrid love affair to inspire her books to treating him solely as a butler (and ordering him to do tasks not assigned to a butler) after she takes up with Bob. So when Bob is sleeping with Olivia, she goes to him looking rather ragged and with cold cream on half her face, he slams the door in her face.
  • 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 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 or as if they're going to travel into space via cryostasis, 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, instead spending nights at Mary's place.
    • After an argument with Mary, he moves himself to the couch when she starts asking for him to stay home more; he's been futzing around with Olivia behind her back.
    • Played straight after Mary loses it and finds out about an affair he had with Olivia Honey; she whispers he's "still on probation".
  • Faint in Shock: When Andrew throws a piece of branch for the dogs to catch, Mary's dog, Juliet, decides to chase after it and falls into the sea. Shocked, Mary immediately passed out.
  • Favors for the Sexy:
    • Gets Olivia Honey hired right away. Bob looks up the line of her nyloned leg to her two inches above the knees tight skirt, checks out her front, and then looks at her face. When she says the agency sent her, he goes "You're hired" without even a trial period.
    • 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. Even Mary thinks that's too much, and looks shocked when Ruth tells her she's used to it.
  • 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 a little more obvious."
  • Full-Name Basis: Most characters, especially Ruth, refer to Mary by her full name. She's a famous author in the movie world, so it's not surprising.
  • Funny Background Event: While Mary is having her interview with People magazine, the People photographer is taking pictures of Nicolette posing in a swimsuit. He's far enough away he probably doesn't realize her age.
  • Gold Digger:
    • Bob, a rare male example. Part of Mary's appeal is Bob's a mid-level accountant, and Mary is an extremely successful author -to the point where she has it in her contract that she can break it at any time and go to another publisher. That's Rowling and King level successful.
    • 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 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.
  • Harmful to Minors: Garcia dances inappropriately with Nicolette and Mrs. Fisher lets Andy drink alcohol to the point he pukes. Mary immediately fires Garcia, and it's implied she has her mom shunt to another nursing home after reinventing herself.
  • 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. Bob winds up in the lowest ranks of society after all his clawing to the top by illegal and unethical means.
  • Large Ham: Meryl Streep's performance as Mary Fisher is Grade A. She plays the successful, clawed-my-way-up pretend-rich-background high-class cool-mannered rich person to the hilt.
  • 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.
  • Missing Mom: As part of her plan, Ruth drops off her children with Bob and Mary and vanishes from their lives until the end. Since she has no home due to the loss of the Patchett house and no income, she can entirely justify dropping them on their father to anyone who asks.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Garcia, Mary's butler, is shirtless or has his shirt mostly unbuttoned 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 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 and Garcia.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • When Mary hears that Bob is going to let/make Ruth walk four blocks at night in the pouring rain, she looks shocked, and even more horrified when she tries to object and Ruth says she's used to it. It seems quickly forgotten, though.
    • When Mary catches her butler having a sexy dance with fourteen-year-old Nicolette, she very promptly responds by throwing him out and firing him. Her comments make it clear it's the minor vs. adult that's the problem, not that her sometimes lover is messing with someone else. Her protective instincts come as a surprise.
  • 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 while she's working on her novel are pink tinted.
    • Ruth takes up this color after settling in as a successful businesswoman. Her outfit is a pale pink of flowing cloth.
  • 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.
  • Progressively Prettier: Played with. As the movie progresses and Ruth's situation improves, she gains access to more flattering clothes, has her hair styled, and gets the mole on her cheek removed. While she's not a knockout, she's no longer the frumpy housewife she was at the beginning.
  • 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, and money. In other words, they are on 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. She's arrogant, snotty, and dismissive. She gets better.
  • 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. When Bob gave Ruth his Reason You Suck speech, he named four assets: Home, Family, Job, and Freedom, and called Ruth a she-devil and a liability. Ruth sets out to turn his assets into liabilities or losses; Bob helps her a lot with his embezzling.
  • 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. She got pregnant fifteen years ago, and his parents "made him" marry Ruth.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Mary Fisher, who dies of cancer in the book.
  • 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.
  • Stealth Insult: At the end, when Mary's reinvented herself as a more serious author and discussing how her last romance novel was savaged by critics, she pushes her glasses up with her middle finger while looking directly at the camera and mentioning the so-called critics.
  • Stepping Stone Spouse: Despite Ruth's steadfast support throughout his career, Bob leaves her for a wealthier, more traditionally attractive client once he's established enough for Mary to want him.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Ruth blows up the Patchett household in order to have a reason to make the kids stay with Bob and Mary Fisher at her "palace by the sea".
  • Success as Revenge:
    • Ruth's revenge against Bob and Mary doesn't just involve destroying their lives but also features Ruth rebuilding hers. By the end she's gone from an unhappy and ill-treated housewife to the co-founder of a successful and lucrative employment agency with a devoted customer base, ensuring she's set for life and personally helping women like her improve their lives.
    • Mary Fisher is still writing by the end of the movie, but she went from churning out romance novels to creating serious works in clear defiance against the critics who mocked her last book.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: To a degree. Ruth wants to ruin Bob's life and Mary's life, but Mary is still treated with a degree more sympathy by the movie even as Ruth systematically destroys her happiness. It helps that Mary finds out Bob was not only cheating on her but was stealing from her accounts too. By the end, Mary's still a successful writer who reinvented herself as a creator of more mature novels while Bob's serving 18 months in prison for fraud and embezzlement.
  • Tastes Like Friendship: Ruth wins over Nurse Hooper by sharing her doughnuts.
  • Teen Pregnancy: According to her mother, Mary Fisher was impregnated at 16 years old, and ended up putting her son up for adoption.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Nicolette poses in a swimsuit for the People photographer and does a sexy dance with Garcia.
  • 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 and Bob.
  • 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. Ruth got pregnant, and his parents made him marry Ruth.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • What happened to Nurse Hooper after she and Ruth started the employment agency? She's seen in a commercial advertising the service and that's the last she's mentioned.
    • Ruth blows up the house to remove it as one of Bob's "assets". There's never a mention of what the insurance companies, the police, the fire department, the DA's office, anyone, has to say about a case of obviously blatant arson.
    • Mary's mother, Francine, is last seen cackling manically as Bob is arrested and led off by the feds during the party - but it remains unclear as to whether she continued to live with her daughter after she sold off the mansion or whether (given Mary's diminished financial state and her having been told her mother was "no longer welcome" at the Golden Twilights home) Mary just found a cheaper nursing home to dump her mother in.
    • The revelation that Mary has a biological son living with an adopted family - or what the People Magazine interviewer terms as "a missing heir to the Fisher family royal dynasty" - is never brought up again save for a mention in the published People Magazine expose on a freeze frame. It isn't said in the film proper whether Mary, after kicking Bob and his kids out, ever intends to reconnect with her own child.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Nicolette. She doubts a "smooth, seductive mushroom soup" will bring her father home away from Mary Fisher.
  • Woman Scorned: Ruth. She's put up with Bob's infidelities for years to the point of being able to say his favorite excuses word for word. She's taken care of the children and the home, and she tries to look nice for parties when Bob has to bring his spouse. Bob flips out on her for "embarrassing" him and storms off to live with his latest mistress.