Oh, the comedy subset of Meryl’s filmography. Oh, how I outwardly pretend her high-brow, sob-inducing dramatic performances are the pinnacle of her career and inwardly adore when she utilizes her fantastic comedic timing. I’ve got to say – when preparing to tackle this oft-maligned blip on Streep’s past work, I was a little, shall we say, nervous. I mean, her co-stars probably make for the most random trio of actors you could assemble for this silly little bit of move – Streep with Ed Begley Jr. and Roseanne Barr?? Yeah, not exactly the first grouping that comes to mind when you think of casting a successful comedic romp (though it sort of make sense considering Roseanne’s rising popularity at the time and Meryl’s incoming burst of funny-woman roles). In She-Devil, Streep plays Mary Fisher, over-the-top, breathy-voiced romance novelist and part-time husband stealer. Fisher lives in a giant Barbie’s Dream House wannabe and making a living peddling dirty books to housewives. The “she-devil” is unleashed, though, when Mary meets Bob (Begley, Jr.) at a party and steals him away from frumpy wife Rose (Barr).
The story ambles on as we follow Rose’s routes to vengeance against wandering-eyed Bob and floozy Mary to show them the error of their ways and to reinvent herself as a powerful, confident woman in the meantime. It’s by no means an excellent film, to be sure, but it’s at least an agreeable revenge comedy. Streep is typically well-timed in this, a far less becoming character than she’s used to. Mary is a bitch, plain and simple, and you find yourself rooting for the typically trashy Barr in this, a surprisingly sweet-natured performance. But it seems that Streep is rather well-suited to playing a comedic villain (see Death Becomes Her for evidence of that), and, though the pairing for Streep/Barr on a marquee is probably the most bizarre one in her career, the two of them play rather well off each other, representing two opposing sides of the womanhood spectrum – the beautiful brat versus the mumsy sweetheart.
Now, I can understand the ill will toward the flick. Streep has very clearly been better in countless other roles, and the writing is, for the most part, bordering on ludicrous, but it’s a pleasant mindless departure from the doom and gloom of her ’80s work. Mary and Rose are big, brash caricatures of the ladies they’re trying to represent, and, though this fact creates some problems with plotholes and inconsistency, the stars are endearing and doing rather well with the predominantly silly script they’re working with.
Meryl’s Performance: B
The Film: B-