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Postcards from the Edge

"Instant gratification takes too long," writes Carrie Fishers in her autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge, a 1987 roman a clef about Fisher's experiences with drug addiction, rehab, and obsessive behavior that turned the erstwhile Princess Leia into a successful writer and Hollywood script-doctor. Coming down from the self-indulgent '80s, Fisher tapped into the feelings of guilt and remorse that often plague those with addictions, laying bare the self-destructive behavior brought on by repeated over-indulgences. Fisher, daughter of screen star Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, grew up in the eye of the public in a life occasionally rocked by scandal (most notably when her father abandoned Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor). Being a part of the Hollywood acting community and working in films with noted drug-users like John Belushi only served to increase Fisher's overuse of both alcohol and drugs. At 28, she overdosed and ended up in rehab with an addiction that she found to be all consuming. Writing about her experiences was Fisher's way of beginning to cope with her problems — problems that she found both painful and, at the same time, humorous. Fisher sent the book galleys to director Mike Nichols, thinking it might have the makings of a performance piece. Instead, Nichols wanted to make a film from the book and asked her to write a screenplay. The novel's excruciatingly detailed descriptions of drugging and drinking were better suited to the printed page, so Fisher took the film in a different direction, turning the story into a comedy about a mother/daughter relationship in the Hollywood milieu. Postcards from the Edge stars Meryl Streep as actress Susanne Vale, who, while filming a movie through a drug haze, ends up in rehab after overdosing. The drug issue makes Susanne an insurance risk on the set, so she is forced to live under the guardianship of her aging alcoholic movie-star mother Doris Man (Shirley MacLaine). Susanne is obsessive — about drugs, about love, and about her relationship with her mother. She lurches from one situation to the next without any seeming control over her actions. As the story progresses and she begins to face life sober, Susanne comes to some awareness about the effects of those actions and about taking ownership of her own destiny, realizing that change takes time. "Life isn't like the movies," her director friend (played by Gene Hackman) tells her — personal epiphanies are scarce, and self-control takes time. The film also stars Dennis Quaid as a philandering producer who preys upon Susanne's vulnerability, Annette Benning as another of Quaid's conquests, and Richard Dreyfuss as Susanne's doctor and potential love interest. Like the book, the movie is more a series of incidents and set pieces than it is a tightly knit story — but what it lacks in cohesiveness, it more than makes up for in pitch-perfect conversation and familial wrangling. Fisher has filled the script with hilarious observations and one-liners that Streep delivers with precision timing. MacLaine finds just the right degree of overacting and is both annoying and endearing as the mother who loves her daughter yet can't help but be jealous of her talents and youth. Nichols weaves a vicious and delightful subplot throughout the film that takes on movie directors, extras, producers, and crew members, leaving no one blameless in a business that fosters competitive pressure. Postcards does have its flaws — the musical numbers by both Streep and MacLaine go on too long, and the tacked-on ending is less than satisfying. But overall, it's witty and delightful with a cynical bite that allows the viewer to indulge in a little pleasure from the misery of others. Columbia TriStar's DVD looks and sounds great, with solid anamorphic widescreen (1:85.1) and full-screen versions and audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. But the disc is exceptional for one very specific reason — the audio commentary by Fisher. It's like spending two hours with a friend who has an exceptional wit and a wonderfully sarcastic and self-deprecating sense of humor. Also included are trailers and talent files. Keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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