Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Halfway House: Oh Suzanne-ah

Halfway through the day we freeze a movie halfway through. What do we see?

Doris Mann: Have you known Suzanne long?
Jack Faulkner: Ah, lets see. we've known each other about a month. It seems like longer, though.
Doris: Oh, I know what you mean. I'm her mother and it seems like longer.
Fifty minutes into Postcards From the Edge (1990), Jack (Dennis Quaid) has dropped by to pick up Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) for a date. Her mother (Shirley Maclaine) intercepts the man with the bedroom eyes ('and the living room nose and the kitchen forehead'). The performers are deliciously insynch with Carrie Fisher's rapid fire witticisms.

One of the reasons people get so invested in the Oscars is the joy that comes from arguing about whether or not the octogenarian institution got it right in any given year / category. When it comes to Postcards From the Edge, they got it very very wrong. It's one of the best movies about movies ever and it only received two nominations. Even Fisher's adapted screenplay, superior to some of the actual nominees, was snubbed. Dennis Quaid and Gene Hackman were both doing sly work here as Suzanne's player boyfriend and sympathetic director, respectively. But both actors didn't break a sweat in roles that wouldn't really be Oscar's thing even in the best of circumstances.

But then there's Shirley "It twirled up!" Maclaine. Hollywood usually loves it when Hollywood celebrates or satirizes itself as you can see in acting nominations like Dustin Hoffman's in Wag the Dog, Jean Hagen in Singin' in the Rain or Michael Lerner's for Barton Fink (among many others). But Shirley, who is a complete knockout as Debbie Reynolds substitute Doris Mann whether she's singing, cracking jokes, or winking for our sympathy, was bizarrely snubbed.

I'll never figure that one out.

I notice something new in the performances each time I see Postcards but the last time I popped it in the player I was totally amazed that I'd never caught this non-acting related detail (pictured below)

When Gene Hackman yells "Cut. Print." at the end of Meryl Streep's Oscar nominated "I'm Checking Out" musical number, the clapboard is not for the fictional film they're shooting but for the actual film we're watching (Postcards from the Edge) with its actual director Mike Nichols and cinematographer (the great, still unOscared Michael Ballhaus). How fun.

If you don't love Postcards don't tell me cuz I don't want to know. But if you do, tell us your favorite bit in the comments.


mrripley said...

my fave line is the film "the wueens love me dear" and the yreally do in this movie,i think maclaine campaigned for lead thus cancelling herself out when up against meryl.

funny you should say that nat about seeing something new i never liked meryl in this up until 6 moths ago and now i adore her in it i think maclaine was taking away my focus as always.

MRRIPLEY said...


adam k. said...

B+ or A-, Nat? I go back and forth on this one.

The Carrie Fisher and Shirley MacLaine snubs are truly bizarre. I don't understand them. They must really not have liked this film (Streep, of course, can get nominated for anything). 4 nominations for this would've been fair. But I would've given it a 5th (best picture) as well.

There are actually aspects of Streep's performance here that I don't like (that police uniformed fight with Quaid, in particular, always jumps out to me as overly actorly and not quite ringing true), but in general, it's great, and more than worthy of a nom.

Her "You Don't Know Me" is brilliant. I bought the DVD just for that. Though it just so happens that the Carrie Fisher commentary track is GOLD.


Try an A. I freaking love this movie. It's in my top three of 1990 along with THE GRIFTERS and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.

and it's maybe my favorite Streep performance ever.


Jude said...

Why Shirley Maclaine didn't get an Oscar nomination for this film blows my mind. I agree with adam k. They're just hard to comprehend.

adelutza said...

Well, for mem this is not only the best Meryl Streep performance but, at the same time, the best film Meryl Streep was in.

Anonymous said...

as soon as i saw the pic & saw you were writing about Postcards..i instantlyly thought "It Twirlled up!" i loved grandma (emma from "white christmas")....and i loved the 2nd husband. sometimes, i mildly disappointed debbie reynolds didn't get what would have been her role-of-her-lifetime. loved her in "Mother."

Chris Na Taraja said...

Here's 1990 noms for supporting actress

WHOOPI GOLDBERG in "Ghost", Annette Bening in "The Grifters", Lorraine Bracco in "GoodFellas", Diane Ladd in "Wild at Heart", Mary McDonnell in "Dances With Wolves"

yeah, what were they thinking! Probably that they were giving the award to Whoopi and couldn't have another comedy. who knows!? Shirley should be on that list for sure.

I can't believe Mary MeDonne in DNACES WITH WOLVESll! Do white Americans really believe that Native Americans look like white people with blown out New Jersey hair. That's a scandal!

Anonymous said...

"Well was it a viral love? Kind of a 24 hour thing?"

One of Streep's best. Suzanne is so sardonic and quick that the darker moments especially sting. Great depiction of a recovering addict. MacLaine wasn't nominated because her character wasn't obviously likeable.... and they didn't get that the "campy grandiloquence" was in service of the character and not MacLaine overdoing it.... My thoughts anyway.Terrific film, Fisher deserves better work than Sorority Row.

- Sean C.

Derek said...

Love this film! It's in my top 5 Streep performances :)

Anonymous said...

Maybe Shirley MacLaine isn't that beloved as one may think? She was also snubbed for The Children's Hour, Madame Sousatzka (the only Globe winner for Dramatic Actress not to get an Oscar nod until Winslet this year, and it's not really comparable because she won anyway) and couldn't get any traction for her comeback role in In Her Shoes.

Victor S said...

The only reason I can't even put together to explain Shirley MacLaine's unforgivable snub is a vote splitting between Lead and Supporting categories(Shirley was nominated as lead at the Baftas and as supporting at the golden globes).
She is co-lead with Streep and this was in 1990, when category frauds weren't usual as they are nowadays and the "rule" that two actresses from the same movie cannot be nominated in the best actress category was only established after Thelma & Louise.


anon 2:53 i've often thought that. She's been snubbed as often as she's been nominated. If she were beloved, she'd have a tally nearing Bergman/Bette Davis levels really given the type of roles she's had and the films she's been in.

Fernando Moss said...

I completely with ADELUTZA:

This is Meryl's best performance ever and the best picture she's ever been in.

But the best damn thing about it is the Meryl-Shirley relationship, you know thwe "un-chemical" chemistry...

Fernando Moss said...

I completeley AGREE*

Kenn said...

Hey Nathaniel have u ever notice around the end of MacLaine's "I'm Still Here" performance, there's a glimpse of an Oscar statue on a bookcase. I find it fascinating that maybe perhaps it was Shirley's Oscar. Haha that's all, and I love this film also!

KTibbs617 said...

The best part about the film is all the Shirley/Meryl stuff. Because, frankly, that's how mothers and daughters are. They drive each other nuts but love one another more than anything. Other than their time on screen, I love:

The entire fight with Quaid
"I'm not a box! I don't have sides, this is it! One side fits all"

And when Suzanne overhears the costume director talking about her weight - Meryl is fantastic without saying a word.

Adam K.- You're so right; the commentary is GOLD.

Lena said...

I love the interaction between Aretha, the roommate, and Doris.

"I think my parents were expecting someone black."
"Are you black?"

"I think I'm going to weave a basket now."

It's the movie that made me love Meryl Streep.

adam k. said...

The commentary is amazing. Anyone who loves this film really owes it to himself to just buy the DVD and have the commentary on hand at all times.

It's a very cheap DVD and a great bargain.

adam k. said...

And wow, Nat, if this is your favorite Streep perf and it didn't even win your gold medal in 1990...? You must REALLY love Anjelica Huston in The Grifters...

Tallsonofagun said...

My favorite moment in the film is the scene with Meryl´s character Suzanne and Annette Bening in her small, but terrific, moment as minor movie actress Evelyn Ames.

I never thought I would see my two favorite actresses in a film together and when I rewatched this recently, I realized that Annette Bening was in it since it was filmed before she became a superstar and I didn´t know who she was the first time I saw it in theatres.

She has that great scene stealing scene where Meryl is asking her about the Dennis Quaid character having slept with her before and I loved Annette´s response:

Suzanne: "Can I ask you something personal?"
Evelyn: "You mean asking me who I have sex with isn't personal anymore? What do you want to know, if I smoke?"

Love it!!!! If you can steal a scene from Meryl (like Viola Davis did in ´Doubt´), then you know you´re good and this was the same year that Bening broke out big time in ´The Grifters´.

Murtada said...

My favourite moment happens right after the memorable "it twirled up". Meryl says "and you were not wearing underwear" and Shirley just shrugs. Priceless reaction. So funny and fits the character, tells you so much about her. And Shirley nails the shrug.

Alex said...

I yelp every time I hear "They're blanks...asshole!"

The back-to-back awesomeness of "You Don't Know Me" and "I'm Still Here" wows me every time. Both are probably my favorite musicals sequences on film (at least in non-musicals)

I love Anjelica Huston in "The Grifters" too much for my own good, but Streep is my silver medalist for that year. I still can't begin to understand why MacLaine wasn't nominated. Great year for Supporting Actresses, in my opinion. MacLaine, Lorraince Bracco, Whoopi Goldberg, Annette Bening, Glenn Close, Marcia Gay Harden, Diane Ladd...I love them all!

Alex said...

I even liked Mary-Louise Parker in "Longtime Companion." Also, notice how Mary McDonnell isn't on my list...

Anonymous said...

I like when Maclaine gets in a car accident due to drunkeness and the press asks what's the 1st thing she'll do when outta the hospital and she cracks "have a drink". It's not politically correct, but the way Maclaine delivers the line makes it sublimely funny.

Cinesnatch said...

"it twirled up!'

Favorite Mike Nichols film.
Favorite Meryl Streep film/performance
Shirley MacLaine robbed of nomination (sorry Lorraine Bracco and Mary McDonnell)
Annette Bening pre-Grifters cameo. (just barely)

Cinesnatch said...

... oh, and built-in Hollywood glamour without actually having to try too hard.

****Shirley MacLaine "I'm Still Here!"****

Cinesnatch said...

Hollywood royalty playing hollywood royalty. I'll creme my pants if Hollywood is ever able to pull it off again.

Anonymous said...

How about the scene with Suzanne's manager, played by Lucille Ball's husband: gary Morton, where Suzanne and Doris talk at the same time? I found that hysterical as Doris makes a conversation about Suzanne's career and life about her marriages and failed first marriage.

The scenes between Streep and Quaid were priceless.
Jack: "I think I'm falling in love with you."
Suzanne: (incredulous) "When will you know for sure?"

Streep stood out to me in this film followed by MacLaine, Quaid, Bening and Conrad Bain.

Grandma: "Go ahead and cry, you'll pee less."

Anonymous said...

I cherish the scene between Streep and Bening, as I love Streep singing in the final


Andrew said...

You're right, N! The film was overlooked. I think Streep was extraordinary and MacLaine deserved to be nominated. Sadly, the Oscars always know how to snub great performances and films.

E said...

Love this movie! Streep, Maclaine, and Bening were all standouts to me.

Now they need to make a version with Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (the movie was great; but I didn't understand why they didn't do this in the first place)