Director Mike Nichols helps Carrie Fisher brings her best-selling confessional novel to the big screen. Based on her own life (her mother is the fabulous Debbie Reynolds), Carrie writes about a middle-aged troubled movie star (another Oscar-nominated performance by Meryl Streep) who survives rehab only to be relegated to house-arrest with her overbearing, scene-stealing Hollywood-icon mother (Shirley MacLaine).
The thinly veiled rivalry between mother and daughter makes for some pretty unsettling confrontations. Fisher and Nichols are both Hollywood elite themselves, which means there’s plenty of in-jokes and winks to paper over the lack of depth in the plot. There are no real insights into addictions or family drama here, but there’s an emotional wallop that just may get you, if the sight of MacLaine’s shapely legs in a slitted red dress don’t get you first.
Melodrama has never looked so good: cinematographer Michael Ballhous does career-defining work here, while Nichols does his usual smug, detached thing over in the corner. Do either of these things save it from the inevitable clichés? Not really, but you’re more disposed to forgiving them.
If you can look past the scandal-free safety of the film, there’s a secondary cast to make up the difference: Dennis Quaid as the sleazy boyfriend, Gene Hackman as her demanding director, Richard Dreyfus as her sensitive doctor, and was that Annette Bening I saw? IMDB says you bet your balls it was! She’s whoring it up with cynicism and wit.
If you were a fan of the book, you’ll notice the film has lost its acerbic edge. It’s all about the comedy here, and even an almost-lethal trip to the ER for a good old-fashioned stomach-pumping can’t quell the chuckles. MacLaine and Streep shine through showbiz and show tunes, and if it’s a little shallow, it’s also a good dose of fun.