Actress Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) is a recovering drug addict trying to pick up the pieces of her acting career and get on with her life after being discharged from a rehab center to kick a cocaine-Percodan habit; after overdosing while on a date, her mother admitted her to the rehab center from the emergency room. When she is ready to return to work her agent advises her the studio's insurance policy will cover her only if she lives with a "responsible" individual such as her mother Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine). Suzanne is very reluctant to return to the woman from whom she struggled to escape for years after growing up in her shadow. The situation is not helped by the fact that Doris is very loud, competitive, manipulative, self-absorbed and given to offering her daughter unsolicited advice with insinuating value judgments while treating her like a child.
Producer Jack Faulkner (Dennis Quaid) runs into Suzanne on the set and reveals that he is the one who drove her to the hospital during her last overdose, and the two kiss. Suzanne then agrees to go out with him. During the course of a passionate first date, he professes intense and eternal love for her and she believes every word is true. Suzanne's euphoria is short-lived, however; she subsequently learns from Evelyn Ames (Annette Bening), a bit player in her latest film, that Jack is sleeping with Evelyn as well. Still dressed in the costume she wears as a uniformed cop in the schlock movie, Suzanne drives to Jack's house and confronts him. As their argument escalates, Jack implies that Suzanne was much more interesting when she was trying to function while under the influence.
At home, Suzanne learns from Doris that Suzanne's sleazy business manager Marty Wiener has absconded with all her money. This leads to a verbal brawl between the two women, and Suzanne storms out to go to a looping session. There the paternalistic director Lowell Kolchek (Gene Hackman) tells her he has more work for her as long as she can remain clean and sober.
Suzanne arrives home and discovers that Doris has crashed her car into a tree after drinking too much wine (and Stolichnaya smoothies). Suzanne rushes to her hospital bedside where the two have a heart-to-heart talk while Suzanne fixes her mother's makeup and arranges a scarf on her head to conceal the fact she bloodied her wig in the accident. Looking and feeling better, Doris musters her courage and faces the media waiting for her. Suzanne runs into Dr. Frankenthal (Richard Dreyfuss), who had pumped her stomach after her last overdose, and he invites her to see a movie with him. She declines, telling him she's not ready to date yet. Dr. Frankenthal tells her he's willing to wait until she is.
In the film's closing moments Suzanne performs "I'm Checkin' Out," a foot-stomping Country Western number, for a scene in Lowell Kolchek's new film.
Jerry Orbach filmed a scene as Suzanne's father, as divulged by writer Carrie Fisher in the DVD commentary, however it was cut.
In discussing adapting the book for the screen director Mike Nichols commented "For quite a long time we pushed pieces around, but then we went with the central story of a mother passing the baton to her daughter." He added "Carrie doesn't draw on her life any more than Flaubert did. It's just that his life wasn't so well known."
Responding to questions about how closely the film's Suzanne/Doris relationship parallels her relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher stated "I wrote about a mother actress and a daughter actress. I'm not shocked that people think it's about me and my mother. It's easier for them to think I have no imagination for language, just a tape recorder with endless batteries." In the DVD commentary she notes that her mother wanted to portray Doris but Nichols cast Shirley MacLaine instead. In her 2013 autobiography, Unsinkable, Reynolds writes that Nichols told her, "You're not right for the part."
Blue Rodeo accompanied Meryl Streep on "I'm Checkin' Out," written by Shel Silverstein. Other songs performed in the film include "I'm Still Here" (sung by MacLaine) and "You Don't Know Me" (sung by Streep).
The film earned positive reviews from critics and currently holds a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 29 reviews.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times said the film "seems to have been a terrifically genial collaboration between the writer and the director, Miss Fisher's tale of odd-ball woe being perfect material for Mr. Nichols's particular ability to discover the humane sensibility within the absurd."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed, "What's disappointing about the movie is that it never really delivers on the subject of recovery from addiction. There are some incomplete, dimly seen, unrealized scenes in the rehab center, and then desultory talk about offscreen AA meetings. But the film is preoccupied with gossip; we're encouraged to wonder how many parallels there are between the Streep and MacLaine characters and their originals, Fisher and Debbie Reynolds... Postcards from the Edge contains too much good writing and too many good performances to be a failure, but its heart is not in the right place."
Hal Hinson of The Washington Post said, "Meryl Streep gives the most fully articulated comic performance of her career, the one she's always hinted at and made us hope for." He felt the film's earlier section was "the movie's best, primarily because Nichols is so focused on Streep. In fact, almost nothing else seems to matter to him... But while Nichols is servicing his star, he lets the other areas of the film go slack... [He] is finely attuned to the natural surreality of a movie set, but when he moves away from the show-biz satire and concentrates on the mother-daughter relationship, the movie falters."
The film opened in 1,013 theaters in the United States on September 14, 1990 and grossed $7,871,856 on its opening weekend, ranking #1 at the box office. It eventually earned $39,071,603 in the US.
Awards and nominationsAcademy Award for Best Actress (Meryl Streep, nominee)
Academy Award for Best Original Song (Shel Silverstein, nominee)
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Shirley MacLaine, nominee)
BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (Carrie Fisher, nominee)
BAFTA Award for Best Film Music (Carly Simon, nominee)
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Meryl Streep, nominee)
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture (Shirley MacLaine, nominee)
Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song (Shel Silverstein, nominee)
American Comedy Award for Funniest Lead Actress in a Motion Picture (Meryl Streep, winner)
London Film Critics' Circle Award for Newcomer of the Year (Annette Bening, winner)
American Film Institute recognition:AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs – Nominated