“I want you to deal with your feelings, Suzanne, before they deal with you.”
Stories of Hollywood excess are nothing new or novel. Even a quarter of a century ago, stories of Hollywood excess were nothing new or novel. What made me think this movie about Hollywood excess might have something new and novel to offer, was Carrie Fisher. Officially fiction, but heavily based on Fischer’s real life, Postcards From the Edge seemed like a sure thing. Fisher is so funny and self deprecating in interviews, and she’s had a long career behind the scenes as one of Hollywood’s best script doctors. So, combining her crazy real life, her sardonic humour and her technical skill as a writer, meant I went in expecting a lot.
After ruining a long take on the set of a movie, actress Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) is read the riot act by her director (Gene Hackman as Lowell Kolchack) for being high. Instead of hearing his criticism and getting her act together, Suzanne goes home with a stranger (Dennis Quade as Jack Faulkner) and proceeds to overdose on pills and cocaine in his bed. Waking up in a hospital bed, all the doctors can tell Suzanne is that a man abandoned her in an emergency room, and that she has been checked into rehab.
Suzanne’s early progress in rehab takes a hit with the arrival of her mother, Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine). A former movie star and lifelong diva, it’s clear that Doris may have taken her own fame, and that of her daughter, more seriously than being an actual mother. With a job on a low rent cop movie, Suzanne tries to rebuild her life. But it’s hard when the movie studio’s insurance policy dictates that she lives under the care and supervision of Doris.
Based heavily on the real life Carrie Fisher, who wrote the book and screenplay, Postcards From the Edge has a stranger than fiction quality about it. Knowing that she grew up in Hollywood, the daughter of Debbie Reynolds, and that she had her own public battles with substance abuse, only makes the wackier, more extreme moments of this movie seem more believable in their absurdity.
Hollywood loves making movies about Hollywood. And I love watching movies about Hollywood. I especially love watching the more barbed, cynical looks at Hollywood. Postcards From the Edge never shies away from the narcissistic, insecure, fragile egos that make that town and industry tick. And I have to imagine Fischer burned a few bridges as Hollywood stars and studio executives saw themselves in the movie’s barely fictionalised facsimiles.
And it’s that barbed cynicism that means Postcards From the Edge can get away with good old fashioned sap at the end. Things are so raw and dark for the majority of the movie (while also being pretty hilarious at the same time), that when the big, emotional moment comes at the end, it’s feels like any corniness in that moment has been totally earned.