Movies about show business start out with a tough handicap: Savant doesn't like 'em. The more they try and tell it like it is, 'bout da biz, the worse they get. Postcards from the Edge is pretty impressive. This was one of the crowning pictures of Meryl Streep's decade-long run of solid hits, and she and Shirley MacLaine manage to portray spoiled Hollywood women, and actually make us like them. Not that they'd be any easier to live with..
Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) is a movie star with an out-of-control drug problem. She barely finishes a film with director Lowell Korshack (Gene Hackman) before collapsing in an overdose, to be rescued by Doctor Frankenthal (Richard Dreyfuss)'s trusty stomach pump. Returning to work, Suzanne finds she can only be cleared by the insurance people if her mother, the grand star Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine) is directly responsible for her. A grandstanding, jealous, competitive woman, Doris plagues Suzanne with love, constantly changing the subject to herself and dispensing loaded advice and insinuating value judgements. Suzanne must navigate the emotional minefield of her mother's 'concern,' while trying to overcome the stigma her drug problem has given her on the set.
Postcards from the Edge is a deft and assured skewering of Hollywood clichés about Hollywood that shows Mike Nichols at his most self-assured best. He apparently encouraged actress Carrie Fisher to write the screenplay from her novel. It's of course about Fisher's problem of being under the shadow of a mother who happens to be a forceful and demanding star, but the film is so entertaining, knowledge of this is totally unnecessary.
Many movies on Hollywood strive too hard to satirize the town, and end up being about nothing, like dog chasing its tail. A good example of subtlety is the film's opening shot, a parody of one of those endless one-take moving masters that have become the mark of newbie directors who need to proclaim, "I have a style." Instead of concentrating on broad comedy, Fisher and Nichols zero in on the odd emotional vacuum that star magnetism creates around itself. Suzanne Vale knows she's successful, knows she should be grateful, knows she should be happy, but is incapable of enjoying much of anything. She's riding the eye of the storm of celebrity. With the demands of an overbearing and emotionally manipulative mother, well, drugs are a recreational way out. I said Nichols and Fisher's portrait of Hollywood was subtle ... well, it's subtle and right-on too. Director Korshack politely introduces his editors to Ms. Vale at a looping session, like the trusted, crucially important collaborators they are ... and then dispatches them to get soft drinks like they were gophers. That bit sums up an editor's 25 years of experience pretty darn accurately.
The 'cameo' performances benefit from Nichols' softening touch. Usually associated with farces, Nichols makes Richard Dreyfuss look sincere (not easy), Hackman charming but volatile, and the charming Rob Reiner totally obnoxious. Newcomer Annette Bening has a hilarious scenelet, with the immortal word, 'endolphins.' Whatever. All the casting is excellent. Suzanne's grandparents are an outrageously disruptive pair, just the kind of relatives we all deal with day after day: impossible, killable, but loveable too. The drug issues in Postcards from the Edge are made clear without a lecture in sight. Witty drug humor abounds, such as the gauntlet of OD'd legends that Suzanne passes while on a journey to a dreamland medicine cabinet.
Actually, the movie has a witty line or an elegant comedic turn every 20 seconds or so. Avoiding becoming too heavy in the home stretch, Nichols ends the film on a high note with a back-to-back pair of country songs belted out by Streep while filming a music video. It's prepared for in the script, and Streep can certainly sing well, but the long songs seem to have been tacked on. Streep is noted for her chameleonlike character assimilation talents, and here she seems to have morphed into a country-western chanteuse just to show off for the camera.
Columbia Tristar's DVD of Postcards from the Edge is their usual superior show. The eleven-year old picture looks pristine, and the delicate sound work is intact. Enjoying this one is not a problem. The disc includes trailers for two other films, but Savant didn't find one for Postcards.
The DVD also has a special treat, a commentary from Carrie Fisher herself, who conversationally cops to all kinds of naughty behavior. Originally Debbie Reynolds was going to play 'herself'. There were also cut scenes with Jerry Orbach as the Father, and John Cusack as a friend from rehab. Fisher is fun to listen to, and very open about her past drug habits. After listening to her, you want to know what a conversation between her and Brenda Vaccaro would sound like. Although Carrie's jokey-bitterness comes through, she's quick to say that the mother character was exaggerated for the purposes of drama: Debbie Reynolds never poured vodka into her breakfast or became a drunk driver.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,