Sep 19

Penny Marshall: Memoir “My Mother Was Nuts”

When I first heard the title of the new book, My Mother Was Nuts, by actor/director Penny Marshall, I wondered, naturally, if her mom was actually “nuts” as in “crazy”—I mean “crazy” as in “mentally ill”—as opposed to “crazy” as in off-the-wall “looney”—“looney” as in crazily silly, that is, as opposed to…

How imprecise, confusing, weird, and inappropriate our language can be sometimes.

Well, I found my answer in an interview she recently gave for USA Today in which Marshall is asked, “After reading this memoir, I think the title should be I Was Nuts, by Penny Marshall. Agree?” She replies, “Yeah, I’m nuts, too, but it came from Mother. She ran through life. She was, like, on speed. She was crazy, but she was funny.”

Or did I?

Like many memoirs these days, Marshall’s apparently is filled with material about unstable relationships, drug use, mood issues, and such. Also, just a few years ago she was diagnosed with both lung cancer and a brain tumor—and she’s survived.

Another relevant question from the above interview: “Do you still have your depressed moods?” The answer: “I’m not so depressed now. I’m jet-lagged. I fall asleep. I have to be woken up for dinner. I’m still not a morning person. But I don’t take any anti-depressants anymore. Not that I’m a perky person, but I’m still alive.”

Not surprisingly, close friend Carrie Fisher has this to say about Marshall’s book: “If I hadn’t known Penny for the past 35 years, reading this book would make me want to. Also, I’m so glad she wrote it because it helps me remember things I forgot, which is a lot.”

And, here’s Tom Hanks: “Penny Marshall is a fascinating woman who has lived a life few of us could survive. Did you know she gave me two of the best jobs I’ve ever had? Of course not, because when she talks she is barely comprehensible. Read her memoir and you’ll come to love her as much as I do.”

Mar 27

“Postcards from the Edge”: An Addict Always Has Enablers

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.”