Thursday, 23 March 2017

Postcards from the Edge (1990)

This page has suffered, in what the words of Carrie Fisher might say, from a little touch of writer's blog. So it's time to revive things, with a film sadly about two people no longer with us.

Carrie Fisher has always made me laugh - not in a conventional way - nor was she a conventional actress, although born into the standard mold for movie stars (raised in Beverly Hills), and in common with the likes of Melanie Griffith, Kiefer Sutherland, the Sheen brothers and Jamie Lee Curtis, was raised in a showbiz background of famous acting parents.

It is the parental relationship between actress Suzanne Vale and her even more famous actress mother, Doris Mann (the brilliant Shirley MacLaine, very much evoking Debbie Reynolds) that forms the central crux of Fisher's film adaptation of her semi-autobiographical book - a semi-surreal and bittersweet journey of a drug addict (as well as a second narrator, removed for the film version) who has very much turned to hard substances, to give her the lift that life often fails to give, but can also threaten to give her exactly the reverse.

Following on from the screen immortality that playing Princess Leia had given her, my own natural enthusiasm and genuine fondness for Carrie led me to follow a lot of her subsequent films - and a bit of raw batch they were (Under the Rainbow, The Man with One Red Shoe, Hannah and Her Sisters, Appointment with Death, When Harry Met Sally, and her one pre-Star Wars film, Shampoo, in a scene-stealing cameo upstaging Warren Beatty.) Having also read the book Postcards from the Edge, to hear in 1988 that the book was being adapted into a film, directed by the distinguished Mike Nichols, with an equally distinguished cast headed by Meryl Streep no less, together with the likes of Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, Dennis Quaid, and the aforementioned Shirley MacLaine, such excitement at the prospect was palpable. Come the release date in Britain of January 1991, I followed the now familiar trend of watching the film on its opening weekend in Leicester Square.

Leicester Square, January 1990

The film was gloriously cinematic, on first viewing, and the stars sealed it. On reflection now, Carrie's witty one liners have a darkness and a cynicism tinged to them, after the novelty of seeing Meryl and Shirley doing their thing had worn off. Good though Meryl Streep is (as always), the one key element missing from the film is Carrie Fisher in person, although her spirit runs right throughout the entire movie.

As is well known now, Carrie Fisher suffered from manic depression, and herself had a drugs overdose in 1984. This is chronicled - through the fictional medium of film - with Suzanne lying in bed one morning with her latest "fling", a something Lothario (Dennis Quaid) who suddenly discovers the extent of Suzanne's wild night, and rushes her straight to the nearest hospital where a specialist (Richard Dreyfuss) brings Suzanne round and has to pump her stomach. "Do I have to be there?", Suzanne asks, in one of Carrie's typically mordant one-liners.

Cut to a few weeks later, and to cope with the rehab after the near-death experience, Suzanne is co-opted by her agent into the home of her mother Doris,  in a supervisory capacity. Having Doris for supervisor however, is for Suzanne potentially taking her from the fire into the frying pan, considering Doris's own history of alcoholism.

The potential conflict could be explosive but in the end is relatively humane and with the two celebrated ladies coming to something of an understanding and an appreciation of each other, like Debbie and Carrie themselves have come to do.

As if to emphasize the poetic irony of the story told in Postcards from the Edge, both Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died within days of each other, Debbie being unable to cope with outliving her daughter as she had always feared. Their stars still twinkle brightly.

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100 Favourite Films

100 Favourite Films