Postcards from the Edge

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Postcards from the Edge Movie Poster Image
Mature dramedy has drug/alcohol abuse, cursing.
  • R
  • 1990
  • 101 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Portrays complexities of parent-child relationships; avoids placing blame and advocates gentle, honest communication. Promotes taking responsibility for one's mistakes and assessing life choices. Looks at the difficulties of growing up with a powerful parent.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While the principal characters have serious issues with which to contend (alcoholism, drug use), the film presents a hopeful look at their futures. It recognizes the determination, honesty, and perseverance that are necessary to make substantial life changes. A fraught mother-daughter relationship is portrayed, with hope for changes there, too.


A soldier hits a woman, knocks her to the ground; she has a bloody lip (part of a movie-within-a-movie). A woman is shown briefly hanging from a building with a busy street scene below (also part of the movie-within-a-movie). The aftermath of an accident shows a car crashed into a tree. A woman appears to shoot at a man, then explains there are blanks in the gun.


No overt sexual activity. Some passionate kissing. Characters discuss sexual encounters ("Didn't I have sex with you?") in several scenes. A man is seen in underwear, then naked through a shower door. References to condoms.


Occasional coarse language: several forms of "f--k," "bulls--t," "a--holes," "whore," "damn," "queens," "t-ts." Some references to breasts, virginity, and farting.


Pentax camera, Coca-Cola, Fritos, Knudsen dairy, Stolichnaya vodka. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Central to the film story is drug abuse and alcoholism.  Leading character is found unconscious, admitted to hospital for drug overdose; stomach is pumped. Her efforts to remain clean and sober constitute move the plot. A second leading character is hiding a dependence on alcohol. Her problem is revealed. One character ingests pills, then forces herself to vomit them up. Visual and audio references to: cocaine, "dropping acid," Demerol, Percodan, and other prescription drugs. Cigarette smoking is frequent.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Postcards from the Edge is a warmhearted drama with comedy, music, iconic movie stars in dazzling performances, and a witty script by Carrie Fisher, based on her book. It's the Hollywood tale of a complex mother-daughter relationship, the challenges of dealing with substance abuse, the trials of working in show business, and growing up at last, no matter how old you are. Drug and alcohol use are essential layers in the fabric of the film. A character suffers a drug overdose, spends time in a rehab facility, and tries to remain clean and sober ever after. References to various drugs (cocaine, Demerol, Percodan), blackouts, and addiction are heard in several scenes. An inebriated woman is hurt in a car accident. Language is occasionally profane (i.e., "f--k," "s--t," "a--holes," "assholes," "t-ts"). Given that Fisher was the daughter of musical star Debbie Reynolds, the book and movie are at least "inspired by" their shared real-life experiences. Entertaining, nominated for many prestigious awards, and surprisingly timely in spite of the fact that it was released in 1990, the themes, language, some sexual situations, and significant drug references make it appropriate only for teens and up.  

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What's the story?

Film actress Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep in an Oscar-nominated performance) is in free-fall as POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE opens. Her dependence on cocaine hasn't gone unnoticed on the set of her latest movie; she's become a liability. And worse, her work isn't good. When Suzanne overdoses on cocaine and prescription drugs, she's sent to rehab and from there, in order to be insurable as an actress, is forced to live with her mother, Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine), an iconic musical star. What seems to have always been a difficult relationship between a dynamic, self-involved mom and a resentful, insecure daughter, intensifies. Complicating things even more is Doris's not-so-well-hidden dependence on alcohol. Both eminently likeable and talented but disastrously self-destructive, these two forces of nature must find a way to share the stage, forgive each other, and survive in the challenging world they've created.

Is it any good?

Wonderful performances, a sizzling script, and a rare but successful blend of drama with comedy and music make this a singularly enjoyable film for grownup audiences. Director Mike Nichols, working with a star-studded cast -- even small roles are inhabited by the likes of Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, a very young Oliver Platt, Rob Reiner, and Annette Bening in her breakout role -- brings complex, engaging characters to life. It wouldn't be fair to say that Nichols makes drug addiction fun, but Postcards from the Edge isn't about painting a heavy or tragic picture of substance abuse. There's poignancy in Suzanne Vale's struggle to stop whatever is the drug of the moment, but the heart of the story is the relationship Suzanne has with her mom. Nichols leavens his film with humor, larger-than-life Hollywood characters, and a touch of romance. Carrie Fisher wrote the script based on her book. How much of it is based on her singular alliance with her real-life mom, Debbie Reynolds, and how much emerges from her imagination has long been a topic of conversation. Given the subject matter, some sexual content, and profanity, the movie is only appropriate for teen audiences.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the title, Portraits from the Edge, relates to Suzanne's life and Doris's life. Did either or both of these women finally step back from "The Edge?" In what ways?

  • Think about the ineffectual (i.e., stepfather, grandfather) or exploitative (i.e., the womanizer, the agent) men in this film. Which man in Suzanne's life was trustworthy, caring, and a father figure to her? How did his presence change her view of the world and of herself?  

  • Because the two leading characters are performers, how did the filmmakers use music to help tell the story? What did the musical numbers reveal about Suzanne, Doris, and about their relationship? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

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