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‘Postcards From the Edge’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 14, 1990

This is one question the makers of "Postcards From the Edge" hope you won't be asking yourself: Does Meryl Streep really look like Shirley MacLaine's daughter?

Whatever your opinion on that score, you can be sure Streep unleashes her usual Streeplike talents as the pill-popping daughter of an aging movie queen (MacLaine), who must fight not only addiction, self-doubt and The Industry, but also Mom Dearest. You can also be sure that MacLaine will do her thing which, since "Terms of Endearment," has involved fine modulations between sparkly-eyed charm and unleavened bitchery.

Based on actress Carrie Fisher's 'fess-all novel about lozenge-dropping and coke-snorting, "Postcards"-the-movie only initially deals with the horrors of addiction. It catches Streep at the end of her worst period, then heads predictably for recovery, with only a few jolts, tears and bumps along the way.

When we first meet Streep, a Hollywood actress, she's the closest to death she'll ever get -- all coked up after a one-nighter with loverboy Dennis Quaid. After being stomach-pumped, then subjected to white-coat advice from drug counselor C.C.H. Pounder, Streep finds she can't get hired unless a responsible party watches over her. That party turns out to be Mom, an imbibing former actress-singer who hates being a has-been and has definite, combative opinions on the way her daughter should run her life.

It's the mother-daughter wrangling that director Mike Nichols and screen-adapter Fisher put the spotlight on. Everything else is a postcard backdrop of "Hollywood" behind-the-scenes and cameo run-ins: Streep bumps briefly into film producer Rob Reiner, who needs a urine sample. She tangles just a few more times with Quaid, does barely two scenes with her film director, Gene Hackman, and never gets back to romantically interested doctor Richard Dreyfuss.

Fisher's one-liner retorts between mother and daughter provide "Postcards" with a sorely needed edge. When Streep accuses her mother of alcoholism, MacLaine denies it vehemently, adding, "I just drink like an Irish person." When MacLaine, defending her maternal record, points out she could well have been a Joan Crawford or a Lana Turner, Streep retorts: "These are the options?"

But for all the jagged, witty chatter -- and Streep and MacLaine do their tragicomic damnedest with it -- "Postcard" provides the most rudimentary and jury-rigged of outcomes. It involves a hospital-bedside visit in which daughter plays Mama for a while, and one of those triumphs as Mom watches in the audience. It may be a nice pitch for familial reconciliation, but does anyone remember there was, like, this drug addiction problem once?

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