Postcards from the Edge (1989): Mike Nichols Mother-Daughter Melodrama, Starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine

In yet another Oscar-nominated performance, in Postcards from the Edge Meryl Streep plays Suzanne Vale, a popular, middle-aged, troubled movie actress on her way to a Hollywood crack-up.

When the tale begins, Suzanne is in bed with a man she doesn’t remeber, suffering from an overdose of drugs.  She’s rushed to the hopstal by the beau, Jack Falkner (Dennis Quaid), who turns out to be a callous, self-absorbed womanizer; he dumps her at the hospital and runs away without waiting or giving his name.

She is barely-functioning wreck on the set of her latest movie, a silly actioner in which she is uniformed and armed as a policewoman. When a coke dealer who delivers stops by her dressing room between takes, she finds herself being rushed to the hospital, suffering the effects of a narcotics bender.

To cure her from blackouts and memory lapses—and self-destructive lifestyle, she is sent to a rehab.  While in detox, Suzanne attempts to piece her life and career back together, but the little confidence she possesses is utterly shattered when her mother, Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine)  arrives at the rehab clinic.

A famed musical star and Hollywood icon from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Doris is soon soaking up the adulation and applause of Suzanne’s fellow recovering drug addicts.

Upon release, Suzanne is sent home as a cure, but it turns out to be a punishment, for she must compete on a daily basis with her mother for attention and fame as she tries to walk a thin line as a recovering drug abuser.

The tale unfolds as a series of confrontations, some tender, other brutal, between daughter and mother, both frustrated at being unable to connect, due to a troubled past of the mother and inevitable effect on the daughter’s youth.

Scribe Fisher and dircetor Nichols knows showbiz inside out, and so there are allusions and inside jokes that makes the TV-like soapy melodrama slightly more entertaining thn it has the right to be.

In the movie, Fisher creates a greater distance between her own life and the charcater Streep plays, and same approach is taken to the character of her mother, a boozy, egocentric, refusing to age has-been, clearly inspired  by the life of Fisher’s real-life mother, Debbie Reynolds.

Both Streep and MacLaine gets to perform some songs: The former, wearing a sexy red dress, sitting on the piano and exposing her still-shapely legs, belts a powerful rendition of “I’m Still Here.”

Streep sings two tunes, one midway at a birthday party thrown by her domineering, attention-grabbing mom, and a country song, the Oscar-nominated “I’m Checkin’ Out,” which concludes the saga.

Nichols gives the melodrama a sleek look (cinematography is by the brilliant Michael Ballhous), while maintaining his customary cold and detached amusement (and bemusement), probably realizing the overlay familia, cliché-ridden nature of the the material.

The secondary cast is great: Dennis Quaid as Streep’s boyfriend-actor, Gene Hackman as her sympathetic director, Richard Dreyfus as her sensitive doctor, who pulls courage and asks her out for a date, and Annette Bening in one brilliant scene, as Streep’s sluttish co-star in the movie within movie, given some cynical witty lines.

You can spot in cameo appearances director Bob Reiner, Mary Wickes, and Simon Callow.


Oscar Nominations: 2

Best Actress: Meryl Streep

Song: “I’m Checkin’ Out,” music and lyrics by Shel Silverstone.


Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Best Actress Oscar was Kathy Bates for “Misery.”

Stephen Sondheim received the Best Song Oscar for “Sooner or Later” (I Always Get My Man), sung by Madonna in “Dick Tracy.”

Meryl Streep as Suzanne Vale
Shirley MacLaine as Doris Mann
Dennis Quaid as Jack Faulkner
Gene Hackman as Lowell Kolchek
Richard Dreyfuss as Dr. Frankenthal
Rob Reiner as Joe Pierce
Mary Wickes as Grandma
Conrad Bain as Grandpa
Annette Bening as Evelyn Ames
Simon Callow as Simon Asquith
Gary Morton as Marty Wiener
C. C. H. Pounder as Julie Marsden
Robin Bartlett as Aretha
Barbara Garrick as Carol
Anthony Heald as George Lazan
Dana Ivey as Wardrobe Mistress
Oliver Platt as Neil Bleene