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Film review: Postcards From the Edge

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 18 1990 12:00 a.m. MDT

As an insider peek at the movie industry, "Postcards from the Edge" is hardly a revelation. As an anti-drug treatise, there have certainly been more compelling examples. And as a character study, it lacks the depth necessary to rise above the pack.

On the other hand, "Postcards" is an entertaining mishmash with witty dialogue and excellent performances from its high-profile cast — particularly Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine as a battling daughter and mother.

Streep has the focal role, as a Hollywood actress with a drug-addiction problem. She's unable to concentrate on her role in a major movie, frustrating her stern, but caring director (Gene Hackman), and before the picture is finished she is hospitalized from an overdose.

In a rehab clinic Streep tries to come to terms with her problem but finds herself in a personal power struggle with her alcoholic, movie-legend mother (MacLaine). Ultimately, to get a role in her next movie — a low-budget action picture — the insurance company insists Streep move back in with MacLaine, who will more or less act as her chaperone.

Unfortunately, MacLaine has more problems than Streep.

The tone here is bittersweet comedy rather than biting satire, with smart-aleck Streep very funny as she wisecracks her way in and out of trouble with everyone she encounters, from her overbearing mother to a womanizing cad (Dennis Quaid) to the sympathetic director (Hackman) who tries to help her keep from throwing her talent away.

There is also a parade of interesting characters, most played by familiar actors. It's an amusing series of Hollywood eccentrics, but it becomes a bit distracting, a sort of spot-the-star routine, as with Richard Dreyfuss playing a doctor who would like to date Streep. Dreyfuss is good, but he's not onscreen enough to develop the role. (And he's such an ingratiating actor the audience is somewhat frustrated at not seeing more of him.)

There are also brief glimpses of Michael Ontkean (currently starring in TV's "Twin Peaks"), veteran character actress Mary Wickes (where has she been?), TV star-turned-director Rob Reiner and another veteran TV star, Conrad Bain.

The most effective cameo is easily offered up by Hackman, a brilliant actor who manages to add depth and feeling to even the smallest role. And in the end the film might have benefited from his and Dreyfuss' characters receiving more time than Quaid's role as an obnoxious manipulator.

Meanwhile, Streep is a knockout, smoothly handling both the drama and the comedy — and even showing off a terrific singing voice. And MacLaine is also excellent, unafraid to allow herself to look bad and behave unsympathetically where required.

The script was written by actress Carrie Fisher, still perhaps best known as Princess Leia in the "Star Wars" films, based on her own semi-autobiographical novel. Fisher grew up a Hollywood kid; her parents are Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher.

As a first-time screenplay it isn't bad, but director Mike Nichols, who, despite success with "Working Girl" and "Heartburn," seems to me to be off his game in recent years, gives it an offhand, frivolous treatment so that the film itself feels as superficial as the Hollywood it is trying to lampoon.

Still, there are some wonderful moments here and the stars truly shine.

"Postcards from the Edge" is rated R, primarily for profanity, though there is drug use, brief nudity (Quaid in the shower) and some vulgar sex talk.