Postcards From the Edge, a 1990 comedy adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel by Carrie Fisher, features Meryl Streep as Suzanne, an actress struggling with drug abuse. We can only imagine Suzanne’s pre-rehab experiences with her presumed enablers, as the movie deals more with post-rehab.
But the movie does start us out with a bit of rehab—which Suzanne has more than earned. One of Suzanne’s best and most-quoted lines: “Instant gratification takes too long.”
Vincent Canby, reviewer for the New York Times, notes about Suzanne’s treatment:
Suzanne doesn’t minimize her predicament, but she can’t help standing a bit outside it. When a therapist suggests that a group encounter session be ended so the patients can visit with their ‘significant others,’ Suzanne wants to know why everyone has to talk in bumper stickers.
When she’s discharged and finds out that she has to live with her mom Doris (Shirley MacLaine) in order to keep her current film-acting job, she’s deeply chagrined. Much of the ensuing plot is about the strained mother-daughter relationship, in fact.
Doris drinks problematically, although she denies being an alcoholic: “I just drink like an Irish person.” A well-known entertainer herself, Doris is also self-absorbed, controlling, and overshadowing of her daughter.
Postcards From the Edge offers glimpses of some common intergenerational family dynamics of an addict. We find out, for example, that Doris started giving Suzanne over-the-counter sleeping pills regularly when she was only nine years old—a great way to set up eventual addiction issues in one’s offspring. And when we meet “Grandma,” Doris’s mom, it becomes pretty clear how Doris became the parent she is.
The review from Variety concludes that this movie “(p)acks a fair amount of emotional wallop in its dark-hued comic take on a chemically dependent Hollywood mother and daughter.” If you want more depth, however, you might actually prefer the novel. It’s a quick, witty read that gives us additional info about Suzanne’s rehab and therapy.
Roger Ebert agrees in wishing the film had gone deeper on the issue of addiction recovery. “Half the people in Hollywood seem to have gone through recovery from drugs and alcohol by now. And yet no one seems able to make a movie that’s really about the subject. Do they think it wouldn’t be interesting? Any movie that cares deeply about itself – even a comedy – is interesting. It’s the movies that lack the courage of their convictions, the ones that keep asking themselves what the audience wants, that go astray.”