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Revenge is sweet... and low.

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

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Assets:

  • 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:
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    • 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, 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".
  • 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 the clue to get out the room.
  • 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.
  • 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 start a successful job placement business.
    • Nurse Hooper also counts in this regard; she's been accumulating a lot of money by being frugal and taking advantage of the room and board benefits her job offers, and builds 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 was 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.
  • Cheek Copy: After manipulating Bob's ex-secretary/lover into breaking into Bob's office, Ruth finds these sort 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, 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. 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 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 or 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, 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 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. Bob looks up the line of her nyloned leg to her two inches above the knees tight skirt, checks out her front, than 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.
  • 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 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. The movie's vague on whether it's her first name or last.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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 have a reason 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 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.
  • 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 start 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 an case of obviously blatant arson.
  • 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 fidelities 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 tries to look nice for parties when Bob has to bring his spouse. And Bob flips out on her for "embarrassing" him and storms off to live with his latest mistress.


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