postcards from the edge

New year, new movies to review! Pardon my nearly two month absence, but I enjoyed my winter break to the fullest by sleeping a lot and not working on anything productive. Now, it’s back to work and school and my field placement and also this blog. I’ve had lots of great suggestions for movies to review, so I hope to get through them all before graduation!

This week, I’m taking a look at a movie that is particularly and unfortunately relevant.

After hearing about the death of Carrie Fisher in December, I wept. She had been taken too soon, her story not finished. Her contributions to the film industry, to comedy, to mental health advocacy were not supposed to be finished this early. But she left us, drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra, and she will be missed dearly.

That night, I finally took it upon myself to watch Postcards from the Edge, a 1990 film written by Carrie Fisher. It was loosely based upon her book of the same name, which explored Carrie’s relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds. Of course, I had no idea that the next day, the world would also lose Ms. Reynolds, ensuring that the next time I watch this movie will be more painful than it was the first time.

Postcards looks at a young but troubled (read: erratic and substance-using) actress, Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep), and her struggle to get back into the acting game after a particularly bad on-set meltdown while she was high. Following an almost fatal overdose, Suzanne is admitted to a rehab facility to detox. Forced to take a break or never work again, she retreats to her aging-but-still-famous mother, Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine), who adds many new stressors to her life.

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First, a word about something I find very interesting: insurance for actors! This is a fairly common practice, especially for actors whom the studio believes will be a risky hire. You may not remember, but Robert Downey Jr. spent decades struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, much of which affected his acting career, and which culminted in his spending almost a year in prison. After being released and pledging sobriety, his insurance bond was incredibly high, due to his past risky behavior. In fact, the only way he even started acting again was because his friend Mel Gibson fronted the cost of his bond so that RDJ could star in The Singing Detective.

It’s my understanding that insurance for actors is not only for risky behaviors, but that’s what we see play out in Suzanne’s career in Postcards. Resentful of being monitored, she resorts to junk food and the occasional dive into her mother’s medicine cabinet.

What I find compelling about Postcards is its portrayal of a complex mother-daughter relationship, but especially when it comes to substance use. In one scene, Doris criticizes Suzanne for her use of acid, while Suzanne turns it right back around and accuses her mother of being an alcoholic. This interaction is a good reflection on the different social stigmas of two different drugs: one that is legal and sanctioned by the government, and one that is illegal and generally unaccepted.

I think this movie does a lot of things well. We sympathize with Suzanne, even if we might not agree with her lifestyle, when she’s forced to be babysat by her mother in order to continue doing what she loves. We see as she’s constantly scrutinized and judged by her coworkers and producers, humiliated when she’s drug tested. We see her frustration as she tries to let her mother know that popping pills and drinking bottles of wine are more similar than Doris realizes.

It’s also pretty hilarious. I adore Carrie Fisher’s writing style, and it really comes through in scenes like this:

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Very glad that Carrie Fisher can teach whole generations about how to count feelings.

Overall, Postcards is a touching movie that looks at the idiosyncrasies of a family who has grown up in the spotlight and how that pressure can impact all areas of their lives. While it suffers from some of the early-90s groan moments (at one point, there’s a joking scene where Suzanne’s fling Jack, played by Dennis Quaid, tells her that he may have sexually assaulted her while she was sleeping — but just kidding! He didn’t!), I think it generally stands up to the test of time.

And even though the plot focuses more on the relationship between mother and daughter, there’s a lot to be gleaned from the messages about substance use and the reality that folks face when using or in recovery. Considering that most people view substance use as a choice and not an illness, we could use more movies that show these folks in a sympathetic light.

Plus, this movie contains one of my favorite Carrie Fisher quotes:

I don’t want life to imitate art, I want life to be art.

Postcards from the Edge (1990): ★★★½