Postcards from the Edge Reviews
Postcards from the Edge is a strong film because of the fact that it deals with edgy material in such a straightforward and yet humourous way. The subject matter in the film is very confronting, and the lighthearted nature of the film manages to make it easier to handle since the blunt realism in everything is both dramatic and funny in its own ways. The general mood of the film is easygoing which is beneficial in its own way because it ensures the film makes for easy viewing, but as a whole I feel like this kind of approach is both hit and miss.
Postcards from the Edge doesn't exactly confront its material in the best possible way though. It deals with themes of recovery from drug addiction, a complicated mother-daughter relationship and the way that people are treated in Hollywood, particularly women. By confronting these concepts in a lighthearted manner, Postcards from the Edge overlooks a lot of dramatic potential in favour of a less melodramatic angle which is admirable in parts but also means that the dramatic effect of the film is limited at times. It is not always as strong as it can be, and this is a general consensus for the film for better and for worse. For me, the film felt somewhat distant and that it didn't explore its characters or particularly the relationship between Suzanne Vale and Doris Mann as well as it could have. There was much more focus on the Hollywood scene than the more deep and complex elements of the characters which made Postcards from the Edge somewhat shallow in its own way, and considering the fact that it is based on a semi-autobiographical story about Carrie Fisher's relationship with her mother Debbie Reynolds, I felt that Mike Nichols didn't precisely capture the edge of the story. I can't say for sure because I have never read the source material, but I will say that the film intrigued me enough to go out and do that because there was enough charm in it to make for reasonable viewing. It isn't perfect and the material certainly hasn't aged perfectly, but it still contains a distinctive charm which comes into play thanks to Carrie Fisher's screenplay and the handling that Mike Nichols gives to it. He is one of the strongest driving forces in bringing the material to life, and while he may not do it perfectly, he is certainly able to achieve that with a sense of style under his belt. Under his direction, the subject matter of the film is brought to life and is given an interesting mood which keeps things entertaining even if the events are not as entertaining as they could have been.
The one thing which never has any trouble coming to life in Postcards from the Edge is the exceptional cast, led by the always magnificent Meryl Streep.
Meryl Streep is a great lead in Postcards from the Edge. As an actress who has made a name for herself performing in very complex character parts, it is intriguing to see her in the role of an actress because it makes the reality of the film more encouraging, and she just sinks her teeth into the role. She captures the part with edge in terms of both comedy and drama, and she shares a remarkable chemistry with every other cast member in many different ways. Meryl Streep constantly keeps the spirits alive in Postcards from the Edge with a performance rich with charisma and of her tension in every situation be it for the drama or the laughs, and she is able to make her part a really likable one which illuminates her natural spirit as an actress. Her physical involvement in the character is impressive because she always seems on edge in one way or another with Suzanne Vale, and it is a very interesting step for her as an actress.
Shirley MacLaine is also strong. What she presents in her role is a sense of something being hidden in the subtext of her relationship with the daughter of her character, while on the surface she maintains a likable demeanour. It is artificial, but gleefully artificial to the point that the only time viewers are likely to remember it is when there is a true confrontation that goes on with her character. Shirley MacLaine takes on the role well mainly because of the fact that her chemistry with Meryl Streep is thoroughly impressive since both actresses are able to benefit from each other's charismatic talent really well. The interactions of the two Academy Award winning actresses is thoroughly impressive to behold because the two of them remain so consistently passionate about the material the entire time without failing to deal with it for a second. While Shirley MacLaine may not have as much screen time as you might hope for an actress of her calibre, she has no trouble making an impact during her small quantity of time and contributes to characterizing Suzanne Vale nicely.
Dennis Quaid is also good. The actor continues to impress me with every role he takes on, and even his small part in Postcards from the Edge is great because of the chemistry he shares with Meryl Streep. There is a certain sense of passion that goes on between them, and the young charms of Dennis Quaid make him an easily likable foil whenever he is around. He has a passionate spirit to him and a distinctive sense of charm which makes him a mildly interesting presence.
So Postcards from the Edge is not the complex mother-daughter film that it could have been, but with Mike Nichols' stylish direction and Meryl Streep delivering a powerful leading performance, there is enough to make it an entertaining experience.
Suzanne is finally given a wake-up call when she accidentally overdoses on a deadly mix of narcotics. After getting her stomach pumped, she ends up in rehab, struggling to piece her life back together. But her shaky mind begins to rattle even more when her mother, Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine), arrives on the scene. Doris is not just Suzanne's mother; she is a celebrated legend, a symbol of the '50s/'60s era of Hollywood musicals.
Doris means well, but she's possibly too self-centered for her own good. When she throws Suzanne a "welcome-home" party, she opens the front door, mugs for the varying cameras, and, with dramatic emphasis, declares, "My baby is home!" When the party is hitting its last legs, she pressures Suzanne to sing in front of everybody. Yet, the second her daughter finishes, she pulls one of those don't-make-me-sing (wink!) acts and one-ups her without even realizing that it may be just a little bitchy.
The rehab clinic advises that Suzanne live with Doris in order to have someone constantly watching her, but that probably isn't a good idea. Whether she'd like to admit it or not, Doris is an addict herself, popping champagne in the early hours of the morning or mixing in an absurd amount of vodka into her fruit smoothies. Within the important first months of Suzanne's recovery, the mother/daughter dynamic is challenged after years of repressed emotions and unexpressed opinions.
"Postcards from the Edge" originally began as an autographical novel by Princess Leia herself, the self-deprecating Carrie Fisher. As a film (which was also penned by Fisher), it contains a darkly funny sting. Deeply rooted in time-to-get-my-life-together reality and over-the-top, Norma Desmond-like expression, it's a comedy that is solidly entertaining but also bitterly true. One can only wonder how much of the film is lifted directly from the lives of Fisher and her famous mother, the inimitable Debbie Reynolds.
Mike Nichols has made movies that range from profoundly moving to breezily humorous, and "Postcards from the Edge" lands somewhere in the middle. It isn't as vigorously thought-provoking as many of his other undertakings, but it captures the mindset that, no matter how terrible life is, you can always find the laughter in it. Surely, Doris' diva attitude is sickening to the long-suffering Suzanne, but we see the events through Nichols' eyes. We're laughing, uncomfortably of course, but there's also unrelenting sympathy for both Suzanne and Doris. Suzanne has never lived a day without stooping under Doris' grande shadow, and Doris has never been able to meet the expectations of her ever-grumbling mother (Mary Wickes). Nichols films these women through a comedic lens, but there's an underlying anguish that he captures with enrichment.
If "Postcards from the Edge" is more scathing than it is meaningful, we have Streep, MacLaine, and Fisher to thank for all of its successes. Streep and MacLaine immerse themselves in their roles, understanding the women they're playing with unforced ease, while Fisher's screenplay contains absolutely scintillating dialogue. It isn't without its faults, but "Postcards from the Edge" rarely misses the mark.
The opening moments are quite good, with Fisher's on-screen alter-ego personified here by Meryl Streep overdosing and being committed to a treatment facility. Streep is very good in those scenes, at first denying her substance abuse problem before admitting them to her herself and those around her. Those wonderful dramatic moments, however, are soon there after interspersed with more lighthearted moments and that's where my problem with the picture lies.
Taken separately, the comedy and the drama both work, they just don't mesh well together. In perhaps the film's best scene, the mood is perfectly set. It's the wonderfully melancholy moment in which Streep sings the Ray Charles classic "You Don't Know Me", and the wistfulness of that instance is never captured again. It finds just the right tone.
The behind-the-scenes Hollywood stuff is terrific as well, as director Mike Nichols systematically shatters the illusion of filmmaking, and the vast array of glorified cameos are fun as well. "Postcards From the Edge" often feels like two very different movies at war with one another. The dramatic film should have won.