Sunday, May 27, 2012

Film review: "Postcards from the Edge" (1990)

100th post of Word on the Streep!  I've chosen to review Postcards from the Edge because I realized a couple days ago that on the DVD there is a commentary by screenwriter Carrie Fisher, and since I just posted about Meryl presenting her co-star Shirley MacLaine with the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award next month, I thought it a natural segue.  Despite the often scatterbrain musings from Fisher, we hear some fun insights into the film's genesis and production.  The script is based on the semi-autobiographical book of the same title by Fisher, focusing on her experiences in the entertainment industry, the tumultuous relationship with her mother (Debbie Reynolds), and her subsequent struggles with drug addiction.  Fisher explains in the commentary that the mother-daughter relationship portrayed is at times rather exaggerated, in that Reynolds is not quite the dominating stage mom we see from MacLaine.  Evidently Meryl decided to do the role based on a line in the screenplay which reads, "I look around and see so much of my life that's good. But I take it the wrong way.  I can't feel my life."

In one of the first scenes we see Meryl (Suzanne) being rushed to the hospital by her one-night-stand Dennis Quaid, when she wouldn't wake up after an apparent night of indulging in drugs and alcohol.  She eventually checks into rehab where we're introduced to her colorful mother, Doris.  Here begins the back and forth struggle of a mom who fails to acknowledge the real issue at hand, instead perceiving the drug addiction (and possible suicide attempt) as an annoying speed bump on the road to Suzanne's next movie.  I think Meryl does a great job transitioning out of her stupor and into the character's sad, sober reality.

In order for Suzanne to be insured on her upcoming film project, it's determined that the only way this is possible is if she lives with her mother throughout the duration of the shooting.  Probably my favorite scene is when Doris brings Suzanne home from rehab, only to surprise her with a party that Suzanne would clearly prefer not to be a part of.  Here we see Doris at her stage mom best, egging on Suzanne to perform in front of the crowd, and then outdoing her after she too is persuaded to sing.

LOVE Meryl's voice.   And does anyone else think she looks like Susan Sarandon from Thelma and Louise in that denim jacket?  Shoulda coulda woulda!   As the film progresses, we see Suzanne come to grips with the history of her addiction, including confronting her mother's own drinking problem.  A criticism of the film which I agree with a bit is that we never really get a resolution of Suzanne's apparent recovery.  After Doris essentially validates Suzanne's accusations of alcoholism by running her car into a tree, the two have a sort of reconciliation and we can all feel good.  But I'm not sure we truly get to see the transition of Suzanne overcoming her own demons.  We assume it's happened based on the happy ending, again with Meryl's lovely singing.

Interestingly, Meryl's mom has been quoted as saying she thinks this role is the most "Meryl-like" that she's seen.  Of course I don't know and have never met Meryl Streep, but I can certainly agree with that observation.  So often we see Meryl play characters who are extremely varied physically, and I think some people might say that since she doesn't adopt an obvious accent or period look we see more of "her."  I consider this film a great testament to the fact that Meryl is not only great at comedy, but that her exquisite performances are not purely generated from how she changes her appearance or speech.  Meryl earned her 7th Academy Award nomination for lead actress, the 9th overall of her career. 

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