Postcards from the Edge

(USA 1990)

“I’ll rinse these. I have Woolite in my purse. It’s handy for the road.”

— Doris Mann

Postcards from the Edge is, of course, Carrie Fisher’s semi-autobiographical novel about a floundering actress, Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep), teetering on has-been status as she puts her life back together after a near fatal overdose. For her film adaptation, Fisher shifts the focus from the rehabilitation process to the relationship between Suzanne and her mother, legendary Hollywood superstar Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine). It’s a good call: as last year’s documentary Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds ( ) demonstrated, Fisher and Reynolds were a solid and supportive albeit wacky team. Their relationship clearly offers ample fodder for this film.

Ably directed by Mike Nichols, Postcards from the Edge takes on addiction, family relationships, and show biz. In order to continue a film she’s working on, Vale must place herself under the care of a “responsible” adult — strictly for insurance purposes, a producer (Rob Reiner) assures her. That leaves her mother, who’s more than willing to help. In fact, it makes her beam all the more. So, Vale does what she must: she moves into her mother’s mansion in Beverly Hills.

Fisher might embellish a few things or flat out make shit up, like the sleeping pill story and her mother’s closet alcoholism. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter: Streep is excellent here, as is the entire cast. The real fun, though, is watching MacLaine emulate Reynolds. She has every tick and foible down perfectly. The homecoming party Doris throws for Suzanne and the is snarky, hilarious, and illuminating — I have the distinct impression that it really happened exactly the way it plays out here. Genius!

With Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, Mary Wickes, Conrad Bain, Annette Bening, Simon Callow, Gary Morton, C. C. H. Pounder, Robin Bartlett, Barbara Garrick, Anthony Heald

Production: Columbia Pictures Corporation

Distribution: Columbia Pictures, Columbia TriStar Films

101 minutes
Rated R

(MoviePlex) B

20th Century Women

(USA 2016)

“We are at a turning point in our history.”

—President Jimmy Carter

I was a little kid in the Seventies, but I have many indelibly vivid memories of the decade: huge cars, gas lines, expensive meat, hijacked planes, Sanka and Sweet’N Low, smoking everywhere, hard rock, punk rock, disco, macrame, spider plants, the Bicentennial, Sky Lab, Victoriana (we had Mucha posters in our mustard-colored kitchen), that strange Holly Hobby aesthetic. It seems like it all changed immediately when Reagan took office in 1981.

20th Century Women captures a slice of American life on that unique, unremembered and largely disowned cusp. Set as a flashback to 1979 with voiceovers that repeatedly remind us that we’re looking backward, the film is a rather remarkable time capsule. The story is simple: Dorothea (Annette Bening) is my grandparents’ age (born in 1924). She had her only son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), late in life—i.e., over age 40. She’s been divorecd for a few years, which was fine until Jamie hit puberty. Now, she needs help understanding him. She enlists his two closest allies—Julie (Elle Fanning), whose pants he wants to get into, and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a postpunk fuckup—to help her figure him out.

Loosely based on actual events from director and writer Mike Mills’s childhood, 20th Century Women is fun to watch. Growing up in a house of females myself, I relate to a lot of his experiences. I loved all the Talking Heads, too. Oh!—and Siouxsie and the Banshees! That said, this film borders on overbearing with its nostalgia. It could’ve been so much better—the material and the talent are both there, but Mills goes for easy returns that don’t pay off. The story falls flat. Perhaps a quote from Bening in an earlier film, the superior and far more interesting Running with Scissors, succinctly sums up my problem here: “It’s shit, Fern. It’s sentimental. It’s emotionally dishonest. It implodes into nothingness.”

I wasn’t bored, and I didn’t hate 20th Century Women. But I’m never going to see this movie again. Too bad, because the acting is great. It’s a misfire due to its execution. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Also starring Billy Crudup, Vitaly Andrew LeBeau, Curran Walters, Toni Christopher, Jimmy Carter (public domain footage)

Produced by Annapurna Pictures, Archer Gray, and Modern People

Distributed by A24

119 minutes
Rated R

(Landmark Century) C


(Australia/UK 2016)

Like any kid, five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) is enamored of his older brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). Saroo shadows Guddu everywhere, helping him do things like steal coal from trains to trade for milk for their penurious mother (Priyanka Bose) and little sister (Khushi Solanki) in their tiny village in India. After begging his brother to take him to “work” with him in a nearby city one night, both boys quickly learn that Saroo is too young to hack the late shift. Guddu leaves Saroo on a bench at a train station, promising to be right back. Saroo dozes off, waking up on an empty platform in the middle of the night. Scared and maybe cold, he gets on a vacant train and drifts back to sleep in one of the compartments. He’s jolted up while the train is speeding through terrain he’s never seen before.

The train takes Saroo to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), where he must fend for himself. He doesn’t know the city, the language, or even his mother’s name. Kolkata is dangerous for a kid: Saroo is nearly abducted at the train station. He meets Noor (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a seemingly nice lady who takes him in. Saroo senses that her creepy friend Rawa (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) has nefarious plans for him, so he bails. A man (Riddhi Sen) eating in a café takes Saroo to the police, who turn him over to an orphanage. They try to find Saroo’s mother, but he’s unable to provide any useful information. Mrs. Sood (Deepti Naval) teaches him English and manners. An Australian couple, John (David Wenham) and Sue Brierley (Nicole Kidman), adopt him.

To use a line from the Beastie Boys, you think this story’s over but it’s ready to begin. Cut to 2008: Saroo (Dev Patel) is grown up, Westernized, and starting school for hospitality management. During introductions, he tells his classmates that he’s from Calcutta but that’s about all he knows. While attending a friend’s party, he goes to the kitchen to get a beer and sees a plate of jalebi, an orange deep-fried Indian pastry. It triggers his memory, and he becomes obsessed with finding his “real” family.

Adapted from Saroo Brierley’s memoir A Long Way Home, Lion plays out as two movies: one about young Saroo, and the other about adult Saroo. On an emotional level, Lion is a beautiful and powerful accomplishment—I defy anyone not to feel something from this film, which deals with identity, family, and home. Even so, it’s flawed. First-time feature director Garth Davis is really heavy-handed with the tears, so much that Lion comes off as trying too hard—manipulative, even. Davis connects the two stories, but he treats them vastly differently. The pace of young Saroo’s story is far superior: it flows naturally, unlike adult Saroo’s, which is choppy and abrupt. Young Saroo’s story is insightful and lyrical, while adult Saroo’s is too often inelegant. I found the unevenness distracting. Plus, the apparitions of Guddu and Saroo’s mother in Australia got silly after awhile. It shouldn’t be difficult to tell from the first three paragraphs of this entry which story I found more engaging.

Even with its flaws, Lion is still a good movie—well worth the two hours it eats of your life. The acting all around is superb, though Lucy (Rooney Mara) is a bit superfluous. Patel is great, but Pawar is the star here; it’s hard to believe this is his first film. Sia’s “Never Give Up,” which plays over the closing credits, will get stuck in your head for days.

118 minutes
Rated PG-13

(AMC River East) B-

Tab Hunter Confidential

(USA 2015)

Some may find it hard to imagine today, but it wasn’t long ago when being gay was not acceptable in America– not even in “Hollyweird,” as Tab Hunter’s autobiography demonstrates. Tab Hunter Confidential is an interesting and entertaining albeit innocuous slice of what life was once like.

Hunter (real name: Art Kelm) discusses with candor and good humor his rise, fall, and personal life in the closet. He is open but definitely guarded: he treads lightly, ostensibly in the interest of privacy. He’s rather gingerly, too: he doesn’t say he slept with anyone, he says he “went up to his room;” he doesn’t say he dated, he says “we were together.” You get the idea. Appearances from celebrities popular in his day– Debbie Reynolds, Connie Stevens, and Mother Superior Dolores Hart (yes, a starlet turned nun)– round out his story and convey how well-liked he was, and still is.

Co-produced by his partner of three decades, Allan Glaser, Tab Hunter Confidential is not exactly the tell-all the title implies. It shares some great anecdotes and Golden Age Hollywood gossip, but no bombshells. Those seeking salacious details will be disappointed. The many images of young Hunter, however, make up for the lack of sleaze.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) C+

Listen to Me Marlon

(USA 2015)

I’m stating the obvious here, but Marlon Brando was a strange bird. It’s only fitting, then, that his “autobiography” be strange, too. And it is. With narration from the man himself taken from cassette recordings he made in private, he reminisces and philosophizes and prophecizes and lets his ego run loose. Footage of career highlights and personal tragedies round out his story.

At times creepy—that digitized head is a lot to take—Listen to Me Marlon gives some insight into why Brando was the way he was. Still, he remains as enigmatic as ever, even after seeing this.

(Landmark Century) B