When adapting a book for the big screen, it often makes all the difference to have the same writer involved. Thankfully, that was the case with Carrie Fisher’s Postcards from the Edge.
Famed for being semi-autobiographical, the story focusses on Suzanne Vale, a successful actress who wakes up in a rehab clinic after accidentally overdosing. Once freshly clean, and back out in the world, she must attempt to find her feet and rescue her now struggling career, whilst staying on the wagon. The skill of a good writer is to recognise what works for each medium, and so I was pleased to see that any alterations in plot and pacing made the film stronger, whilst honouring the tone and themes of the source material. The film also allowed for a real focus on Fisher’s brilliant dialogue, which is full of hilarious quips, sharp observations, and clever wordplay.
In both iterations, Suzanne herself is very much the driving force of the narrative; Postcards being, in many ways, a character study of a woman attempting to make peace with herself. She is captured enigmatically in the film by Meryl Streep, who embodies the quick wit, cutting sarcasm, and poignant inner demons of the heroine with all the skill and charisma you’d expect. Shirley MacLaine is also compelling as Doris, Suzanne’s overbearing and brilliantly flamboyant mother. Indeed, the increased focus on their complex relationship is the biggest change Fisher made from page to screen. With both having enjoyed the glow of fame, there is an undercurrent of jealousy that simmers between them; Suzanne keen to step out of her mother’s shadow, and Doris wary of being outshone by her daughter. This adds another layer to one of the primary themes carried over from the book, which is a satirical look at the vain, fickle, image obsessed, and potentially damaging pressures of life in Hollywood; something Fisher and her own mother were very much aware of.
Alongside the big names heading up the cast, there’s an impressive roll call of stars in supporting roles, including Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, Rob Reiner, Annette Benning, and Simon Callow. This felt pleasingly appropriate given its tongue-in-cheek lambasting of stardom and Hollywood culture.
The book was deliberately inconsistent and unconventional in structure, reflecting Suzanne’s sense of floundering. The film, by contrast, has a clearer sense of climax and resolution, a decision that works when considering broader audience appeal, and which allows things to end on a more hopeful note. Normally I finish watching a screen adaptation of a book with a clear opinion over which was better (usually the book, let’s be honest). But in this case, the strong performances, appropriate and well-implemented tweaks in all the right places, and a deceptively clever and heartfelt screenplay allow both to sit strongly alongside each other.