30 May 2007 | slokes
Luke Skywalker is not the only member of the Star Wars gang with parent issues. Carrie Fisher, the actress who played Princess Leia, channeled hers into a novel that became another winning Mike Nichols domestic comedy, "Postcards From The Edge."
Meryl Streep stars as Carrie alter-ego Suzanne Vale, a once-successful actress trying to restart her career after a near-fatal O.D. Her mother, a screen legend in her day named Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine), happily takes on the responsibility of overseeing Suzanne's recovery, especially given the attendant oversight she gets on daughter's life and career.
"I really hate that you have to go through this," Doris sighs upon visiting her daughter in the rehab clinic. "I wish I could go through this for you." MacLaine gives, frame for frame, the best performance in the film, one of her best ever. She and Streep seem to feed off the best aspects of each other's prior screen work, Streep picking up on MacLaine's sass and comedic chops, MacLaine on the way Streep can give you a sea of sadness through just a flickering gleam in her eyes.
Streep's comedy turn is the big surprise here, especially given how successfully she pulls it off. No dingoes running off with babies in this production. Nichols helps by putting her in situations that are very un-Streepish, like being threatened by cheesy "Scarface" extras or inhaling Fritos. Whatever the props, Meryl herself makes me laugh, something I never expected. Not that she lays back. Her gift for inhabiting others' skin is on fine display, as she gives Suzanne Carrie Fisher's wry intonations and wan half-laugh.
You can hear the connection on the DVD commentary; a candid, amusing piece by Fisher in which she explains the background of "Postcards," why she considers it "emotionally autobiographical" in the way it deals with her own past drug issues and especially her relationship with her movie-star mother, Debbie Reynolds. At the same time, it's fictional in many key details.
Fisher's clever Hollywood-dream-factory send-up of a script gives MacLaine and Streep plenty of great lines that pop off the screen like cherry bombs. "Instant gratification takes too long," Suzanne whines. "I know you don't take my dreams seriously, even when I predicted your kidney stones," crows Mom.
The film does get rather pat in the second half, especially when both bond by rounding on Suzanne's ancient grandmother (Mary Wickes). Given that Suzanne's the central character, and the one with the drug problem, more effort should have been made on exposing her flaws and weaknesses, rather than making her seem the most normal character in the story. Fisher makes this point herself in her commentary, wishing she was "tougher" on Suzanne.
"Postcards" is most effective when it focuses on the paradox of how these people perform so well in the limelight and so clumsily outside of it. "We're designed more for public than for private," is how Suzanne puts it at one point. Some comments here complain of too many musical numbers, but of course entertaining is what these women live for. Watching Suzanne watch her mother sing "I'm Still Here", realizing for an instant that a throwaway line in the song is really a cry of pain over Suzanne's way of life, and finally responding, silently but in a nakedly emotional way, communicates all you need to know about how much these two people love each other, beneath their banter and blame.
Such subtle touches allow Streep, MacLaine, and Nichols to keep the longer dialogues crisp and funny. You may have a hard time understanding the lives these people lead, but you will enjoy their company.