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Postcards From The Edge

review by Anthony D.

Rated R

Studio: Columbia/Tri-Star

Running Time: 102 minutes

Starring Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Simon Callow, Annette Bening, Mary Wickes, Robin Bartlett

Written by Carrie Fisher
Based upon her book

Directed by Mike Nichols

Retail Price: $24.95

Features: Carrie Fisher Commentary, Bonus Trailers, Talent Files, Production Notes

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.33:1 Full Frame, English Dolby Surround, French Stereo, Spanish Stereo, Portuguese Stereo, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Portuguese Subtitles, Chinese Subtitles, Korean Subtitles, Thai Subtitles, Chapter Search

Greetings! Having a wonderful time! Wish you were here in Sunny Los Angeles! So many fascinating people to see! Look there's Meryl Streep! Isn't she great?! Oooooh! And Shirley Maclaine! You remember her? She was in "Terms of Endearment" with that Nicholson guy...There's Dennis Quaid! And Annette Bening! Gene Hackman, too! Well, gotta run! I'll tell you e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g,, the edge.

No, the 1990 film "Postcards from the Edge" is not really the celluloid conceit of literal postal quips from U2's guitarist. Thankfully it is a star-studded humorous account of Suzanne Vale's struggles with her life as she tries to open herself up to a drug-free existence. Suzanne finds that drugs may be the least of her problems. Her career is on the skids. Her new boyfriend is sleeping around. Her mother, Doris Mann, a fading show-business queen, mixes vodka breakfast shakes. Her manager has taken French leave with all her assets. Grandma and Grandpa are both dottering, though doting. Not exactly a cushy life in La La Land.

Though plotless, "Postcards from the Edge" remains one of my favorite films from the 1990's. Adapted by Carrie Fisher, from her novel, "Postcards," lets us into the real world of Hollywood that's not always seen on the screen. Carrie based her novel on her own experiences with drug re-hab, so many of the scenes have a truthfulness not always accorded to a comedy. In an unlikely piece of casting, Meryl Streep plays Suzanne, the character based on Fisher. Streep doesn't portray a recognizable Carrie Fisher, but a vulnerable child-woman who uses her wisecracking humor to fend off anger and hurt. Matching Streep beat for beat in the acting department is Shirley MacLaine, as Suzanne's alcoholic mother - - or, if you look at the "real life" counterpart, then Shirley is playing Debbie Reynolds - - who dishes the dirt as easily as offering a compassionate shoulder to lean on. Shirley even manages to belt out a stunning version of Stephen Sondheim's survivor anthem, "I'm Still Here" in a birthday party scene after Meryl has tenderly sung the Ray Charles classic, "You Don't Know Me." The relationship between these two women is the fulcrum of Nichols' film, and the two stars more than measure up to the task. Filling out the remainder of the cast are familiar Hollywood faces, in what amount to glorified cameos: Gene Hackman as a very understanding and loving director, Richard Dreyfuss as a doctor who not only pumps stomachs, but sends flowers afterwards, Dennis Quaid as a romantic interest whose interests DON'T include monogamy, Michael Ontkean as an acting buddy, Rob Reiner as a troubled producer and Annette Benig as one of Suzanne's romantic rivals.

Columbia TriStar has carefully preserved Michael Balhaus' exquisite photography with an anamorphically enhanced presentation, with a widescreen (1.85:1) version on the disc's first side, and a full screen version on the second. Colors are subdued, but no more than they were in the theatrical release. Suzanne's Hollywood is not the Day-Glo Hollywood we're accustomed to seeing on the screen, but rather a soft-focused (drug-eyed, perhaps) town where the characters are more colorful than the scenery. It's very appropriate that Doris is wearing a red dress when she takes the stage at Suzanne's birthday party. One couldn't ask for a better presentation of the actors' skin tones, especially in close-up. Check out Shirley MacLaine's tender close-up in Chapter Eleven as Meryl performs: the ruby earrings dangling beneath her auburn hair, blue eyes sparkling, rosy cheeks, all above the fire-engine red sequined dress. Contrasted with Meryl's faded-blue denim jacket, flaxen hair and porcelain, almost alabaster skin. The colors are true to the cinematographer's intent. I spotted very little grain, even in the scenes set with mostly ambient lighting. As the film progresses, the color presentation accurately reflect the mood of the film's leading lady, until it finally bursts through with a sunny display of happiness on a studio soundstage.

The lack of a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track is not that surprising, as this is a film that is dialogue laden. The Dolby Surround is a pleasant enough experience, keeping the dialogue quite up-front. Surround sound is infrequently used, but most noticeably in the film's finale. And what a finale it is! Shel Silverstein contributed a country-flavored survivor anthem which, is Suzanne's showcase, not to mention Meryl's, "I'm Checkin' Out" which plays nicely against Doris' "I'm Still Here" in terms of personal growth. With this anthem, the bass kicks in, the honky-tonk piano comes to the forefront and the rear speakers throb with music. Alternate soundtrack options are the French, Spanish or Portuguese tracks, both of which feature the songs in English.

For some strange reason, the original theatrical trailer is not one of the disc's Special Features, in its place are the trailers for two other Columbia TriStar films: "As Good as It Gets" and "Jerry Maguire" which have absolutely nothing in common with the feature. "Postcards from the Edge" features a very accurate closed-captioned rendering of the film's dialogue, as well as seven (!) foreign language subtitle options. The Talent Files offer up several text pages for each of the film's major contributors, each accompanied by a fine portrait designed as a postage stamp. The best Special Feature, and one of the best commentary tracks I've ever heard, is Carrie Fisher's laugh-out-loud running commentary. With her deadpan delivery, and steel-trap memory, Fisher is every bit as entertaining as the film itself. Carrie goes to great pains to convince viewers that Doris Mann IS NOT Debbie Reynolds, and that Debbie was a serious candidate for the role (how weird THAT would have been?!?!), and that Meryl took several of Carrie's personal idiosyncracies and utilized them in her her brilliant characterization. Carrie's commentary is not to be missed.

"Postcards from the Edge," ultimately is a picaresque morality play. Vignettes from Susan's newly drug-free life are played out against the literal and fictional backgrounds of Hollywood. Mike Nichols smooth directorial reins trot out highly comic portrayals of show business types from a thoroughbred ensemble cast. To say that "Postcards from the Edge" is Meryl's, or Shirley's film would ultimately be dismissing the fine work of Gene Hackman, Dennis Quaid, Richard Dreyfuss, Annette Bening and Robin Bartlett - - not to mention Michael Ontkean, Simon Callow, Conrad Baines and Mary Wickes. Each player is given his/her due, thanks to Fisher's screenplay. Possibly too "show-busy" for some, with quite a few Hollywood in-jokes, "Postcards" is a very fine comedy, and ranks as one of Mike Nichols' better films. It certainly has a limited appeal, and first-time viewers should be cautioned to try "Postcards from the Edge" as a rental feature, before deciding on its purchase.

(4/5 - NOT included in final score)




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