Postcards From the Edge (1990)
Written by Carrie Fisher
Directed by Mike Nichols
Before her passing, actress Carrie Fisher had become well-known for her blunt, take no shit demeanor. After decades of growing up and living in Hollywood, Fisher was numb to the nonsense of her profession. She has a rare experience that not many actors have, to be a part of a film franchise that becomes so iconic it reshapes the planet. Add in her rough childhood, and you can see why Fisher ended being a substance abuser. The movie industry is the only thing Fisher knew, and it can take a toll on someone who can’t always be “on.”
Based on Fisher’s novel, the film focuses on actress Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep), a recovering drug addict whose career is in shambles. After working through rehab, her next film project won’t take her unless she’s put under the care of her mother, Doris (Shirley MacLaine).
Doris is a celebrity in her own right, a film star decades earlier who is very competitive even with her own adult child. While Suzanne attempts to navigate her mother’s pushy nature, she strikes up a relationship with producer Jack Faulkner (Dennis Quaid) that is obviously not going to end well as she’s still not fully recovered from her substance abuse. We follow Suzanne as she comes to terms with herself and her mother during this difficult time in her life.
Streep once again plays a character unlike any she’s played previously, giving a pretty good take on Carrie Fisher. We sympathize with Suzanne while acknowledging she makes terrible decisions in her personal life. The more we get to know Doris, the more we understand how Suzanne has turned out this way. Her mother is still clinging to her fame, and both wants her daughter to succeed but not more than herself. There are some great comedic moments in the sequences between these two, and Shirley MacLaine is absolutely fantastic in the role. She gets a musical number early in the film and absolutely nails it.
The biggest problem with Postcards is a lack of focus. It starts out as a comedy-drama examination about personal recovery from drug abuse but then shifts its focus multiple times, like trying to find its identity. I think keeping the story in rehab would have been a great choice because the few scenes we get early on are excellent. You could still incorporate Doris through visits and flashbacks, focusing on Suzanne working through her issues. The movie also teases that it will be about Suzanne struggling on a film set post-rehab, and we get some of that yet again, it feels incomplete.
There’s a fantastic moment in the third act where Suzanne encounters a director (Gene Hackman) she worked with earlier. He gives her a little pep talk where the dialogue is played so naturalistically and fun. It made me wish his character had been in more of the film because the two of them have fantastic chemistry together. But ultimately, there is little time spent seeing Suzanne heal or come to terms with her addiction. The real problems feel glossed over, and I can’t help but think you could have a funny film that did that as well.