Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Postcards from the Edge: Mommy Issues

I know I have a wide variety of favorites, from classic musicals (like "The Sound of Music") to raunchy comedies (like "Animal House") to action flicks (like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid").  But I must admit...I am truly girly in my main taste.  Having spent my weekend watching movies like "Waitress," "Now, Voyager," and "Passion Fish," I could think of only one type of film to write about today - the chick flick.  So, I hope you enjoy delving into one of my favorite chickie tales, "Postcards from the Edge" (1990).

And why wouldn't I love it, since it's all about Hollywood, and involves not one but four actresses that I absolutely love!  Based on the 1987 semi-autobiographical novel by Carrie Fisher (actress #1), "Postcards" stars the great Meryl Streep (actress #2) and the wonderful Shirley MacLaine (actress #3), a winner already with just that fact.  The movie is the story of an actress (Streep) who, after getting out of rehab, tries to put her life back together, and deal with her eccentric actress mother (MacLaine) at the same time.  Fisher adapted her book to the screen herself with the help of director Mike Nichols.  Her book focuses more on various obsessions in life, from drugs to love to fame.  Nichols and Fisher bounced around a lot of the book's storylines before finally settling on the mother-daughter relationship (which is barely a bit in the novel).  Because of this, the film got a lot of press as being a true representation of Fisher and her relationship with her real-life actress mother Debbie Reynolds (actress #4).  However, Fisher stated in the DVD commentary, "I wrote about a mother actress and a daughter actress. I'm not shocked that people think it's about me and my mother. It's easier for them to think I have no imagination for language, just a tape recorder with endless batteries."  Fisher does state that many of the little mannerisms of the film's mother and daughter relationship are very similar.  Reynolds actually petitioned to play the role of Doris, the mother, but Nichols already had MacLaine in mind.

It's hard not to make the comparisons between the real and the fake with this film though.  Fisher has had a lot of problems in her life with drugs.  And having grown up in such a public showbiz family, much of her life is already so well-known to us.  Almost from birth, her life and family have been the subject of the tabloids.  That's when her father, singer Eddie Fisher, cheated on and eventually left her mother, America's sweetheart, for Elizabeth Taylor.  As Fisher said in her autobiography Wishful Drinking, they were the Brangelina and Jennifer Aniston of the 50s.  From there, her life was what most of us would call surreal (but to her was just her life). 

She grew up around the movies and made her film debut in "Shampoo" (1975).  Then came "Star Wars" (1977).  Taking on the role of Princess Leia at just 21 years old was an experience no one could have seen coming.  Instantly, she became a pop culture icon beyond anyone's imagination, through sequels, merchandising, etc.  This didn't necessarily start the drugs, but it didn't help.  Failed relationships (including a marriage to singer Paul Simon), mental problems, and a couple of stints in rehab followed.  It was during that first rehab stay that she started writing the novel "Postcards from the Edge."  It's mainly a collection of monologues poking fun at the funny parts in serious situations of life.  She had sent the novel to Nichols just for performance sake, thinking some of her monologues could be used.  Nichols called her back to say he wanted to make the book into a film instead.  He then asked Fisher to write the screenplay for it, something she had never done before.  It was a struggle the first time, but since then, she has become an accomplished writer and script doctor herself, helping out with scripts like "Sister Act" (1992) and "The Wedding Singer" (1998). 

Fisher said that when she finally finished the "Postcards" screenplay and sent it out to find a cast, she was in shock when Meryl Streep accepted the part based on her.  She was in awe of her talent throughout the filming.  However, Fisher did have to coach Streep on one aspect of her life - being high, something Streep had never been.  Streep picked up on some of Fisher's little habits though, like fidgeting with her fingers and such, while Fisher visited the set every day.  Streep's mother later told Fisher one time that "Postcards" was the closest Meryl had ever come to playing herself.  Streep also sang all her own songs, choosing "You Don't Know Me" to sing during the party scene herself.  As for Shirley MacLaine's song right after, "I'm Still Here," Nichols got songwriter Stephen Sondheim to write special lyrics just for MacLaine and this film.  (Debbie Reynolds has since added that version to her act.) 

So, if you're in the mood for a good chick flick, or just some great acting and writing, check out "Postcards from the Edge."  It currently can be watched instantly on Netflix or here.  I'm off to swim in my first triathlon this weekend, so I'll be back Monday with another great film to share.  Have a wonderful week, everyone!

(Post-tidbit:  Though they never appeared together on screen in "Postcards," Shirley MacLaine and Annette Benning would get to know it each other well only a couple of years later when Benning married MacLaine's brother, Warren Beatty.)

1 comment:

  1. DEBBIE REYNOLDS should have played the "Mom Role" in the film.

    It is really sad to hear today of Ms. Carrie Fisher's passing in Los Angeles, California, USA. :(