Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Old Movie Review: "Postcards From The Edge"

The deaths last week of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds (see ), prompted us to seek out and watch the 1990 movie, "Postcards From the Edge", screenplay by Carrie Fisher, based on her novel of the same name.

Directed by the great Mike Nichols, the movie stars Meryl Streep as  young actress Suzanne Vale and Shirley MacLaine as her mother, Doris Mann, a one time star of movies and cabarets.  Suzanne has never quite been able to escape the shadow of her famous mother and this has led to a life filled with "mother issues", and, oh, yeah, drug addiction.  The movie opens with Suzanne screwing up on a movie set because of her drug issues and ending up on a rehab center.  In order to get work in a shlocky movie, the producers insist that she live at home with her mother for the duration of the filming.  This opens the entire can of worms that Suzanne has struggled with her entire life.

It was no secret at the time that Fisher's novel was published that this story was autobiographical in nature.  I didn't read the book, but the movie pulls no punches in describing the rocky nature of the Mann-Vale/Reynolds-Fisher relationship.  It is biting and at times quite uncomfortable to watch the two fight and struggle to come to terms with each other, even when the daughter is now a middle-aged adult.  (Funny bit of dialog:  When Streep tells MacLaine that she, Streep, is now middle-aged, Shirley responds by saying that "you are young; I'M middle-aged", to which Streep replies "How many 120 year olds do you know?")  Turns out that Mann/MacLaine, now a past her prime star, has some mother issues of her own, and a fairly serious drinking problem, which, of course, she denies while castigating her daughter for her drug issues.

Smaller parts in the movie are played by Annette Bening, Richard Dreyfuss, and Gene Hackman.  Hackman's part is pretty key, actually.  He plays a movie director who threatens  to see that Suzanne never works again because of her drug issues, but who turns out to play a key role in helping her out, not only in her career, but in her relationship with her mother with this particular exchange of dialog:

Lowell: You know, you're not going to get a lot of sympathy. Do you know how many people would give their right arm to live your life? 
Suzanne: But that's the problem. I can't feel my life. I look around me and I know so much of it is good. But it's like this stuff with my mother. I know that she does these things because she loves me... but I just can't believe it. 
Lowell: Maybe she'll stop mothering you when you stop needing mothering. 
Suzanne: You don't know my mother. 
Lowell: I don't know your mother, but I'll tell you something. She did it to you and her mother did it to her and back and back and back all the way to Eve and at some point you just say, "Fuck it, I start with me." 
Suzanne: Did you just make that up? 
Lowell: Yeah, well, I was working on it when you came in. If you'd shown up a half hour later like you were supposed to, it would have been better. 
Suzanne: It's pretty good as it is. 
Lowell: Yeah, you just like it because it sounds a little like movie dialogue. 
Suzanne: That's right, I don't want life to imitate art, I want life to be art.

The very best scene in the movie may well be the final scene wherein Suzanne, acting an a new movie, sings a slow country ballad called "I'm Checking Out".  The entire movie crew is taken by the performance, including Doris (MacLaine), who is on set watching her daughter during filming. It is a triumphant performance, and it ends the movie "Postcards From The Edge", but without breaking stride, and seemingly in one take, Streep performs the song again, this time in a rocking up-tempo manner as the film's closing credits roll.  It is absolutely terrific!

As one might expect, given the people involved, Fisher's script, and Nichols' direction, the acting is terrific in this one, and, yes, Streep did receive one of her twenty (or is it twenty-one?) Oscar nominations for her performance in this one.  This movie is now twenty-seven years old, long enough ago that Streep was able to play the daughter  in it.  Given the nature of Hollywood, and the attention surrounding both Reynolds and Fisher due to their deaths, I can just picture someone in some studio boardroom pitching this one...."Hey, let's strike while it's hot and do a remake of "Postcards From the Edge", only this time, Streep will play the mother."  Would that surprise anyone?

Three stars on this one from The Grandstander.

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