How Carrie Fisher Made Us Love Imperfection

Why you should watch ‘Postcards from the Edge’ tonight

It seems incorrect that a survivor like Carrie Fisher could die at the mere age of 60. She should have gone out with arteries full of stents at the age of 105, attended by her dog, Gary Fisher, and a cabal of muscled men scantily clad in outfits reminiscent of what Leia wore in her days with Jabba. In a just world, Fisher would have had this heart attack and not even noticed, so years later she could’ve relayed her shock at the next doctor’s visit in another one of her best-selling memoirs. She should have had time to write one more great script for Meryl Streep; perform a two-woman show with her mother, Debbie Reynolds; and work with her own daughter, Billie Lourd, who is now pursuing a career in acting. At 60, Carrie Fisher is still gone too soon.

While we mourn Fisher and her might-have-beens, at least we still have her brilliant 1990 film Postcards from the Edge. Adapted by Fisher from her semiautobiographical 1987 novel, Postcards is one of the great Hollywood-on-Hollywood movies, one of the great mother-daughter movies, one of the great addiction movies, one of the great comedies — and it contains the single best Meryl Streep performance, Sophie’s Choice be damned.

Postcards follows Suzanne Vale, a Fisher surrogate played by Streep, as she navigates sobriety in Hollywood with the help — and sometimes hindrance — of her mother, the Debbie Reynolds–esque Doris Mann, played by Shirley MacLaine. Navigating Hollywood bullshit with a fluency that can only come from being a native speaker, Vale starts the movie as the star of a film, but we’re only allowed to see that illusion as such once the cameras stop rolling. That difficulty in identifying reality continues even after Vale gets sober, tries to change her relationship with her mother, and repairs her professional reputation. Every time Vale thinks she understands what’s happening around her, the walls are pulled away — sometimes literally, thanks to the brilliant direction of Mike Nichols — and Vale finds herself on another movie set, being fed another line, stuck with her real feelings in a world that’s artificial.

At its heart, Postcards from the Edge is a film about a woman struggling to find her footing in a profession devoted to the creation of fantasy. Perhaps that’s why Fisher became such a precious figure even beyond her appearances in Star Wars, When Harry Met Sally..., Hannah and Her Sisters, and every other beloved movie she stole with her perfect timing and dry wit. She took joy in removing the scrim and revealing the imperfect humanity underneath; Fisher relished the liberation of truth. She dazzled us with it.

Like Suzanne Vale rewatching scenes she performed high so she can replace her slurs with the proper elocution, Fisher was willing to relive the rough episodes of her past if it meant making sense of the mess. Everyone struggles to see themselves clearly sometimes, but most of us do what we can to avoid acknowledging there was a problem in the first place. Unlike the rest of us, Fisher’s strength was in admitting her weakness.

Of course, Postcards from the Edge could never express the sum total of Fisher’s personhood. After Postcards, Fisher had a long and storied career as a script doctor, fixing up 1990s and early ’00s charmers including Sister Act and The Wedding Singer. Though Postcards was her only credited screenplay, she wrote four novels and three memoirs, including her latest, The Princess Diarist. Where her Postcards heroine discovers singing as a second passion in life, Fisher found writing, and it’s through her books and her interviews that we came to know her as we know few actresses speaking their own words.

We know her resilience from her openness regarding her struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction. We know her kindness from her remembrances of friends like Robin Williams. Her humor and her massive intelligence were evident every time she opened her mouth; had she lived through this whole episode, she would have come out on the other side cracking wicked jokes about it.

In 1983’s Return of the Jedi, Princess Leia famously responds to a declaration of love with “I know” — perfect for a princess and leader of the intergalactic resistance. But in Carrie Fisher’s own work here on Earth, she fought back against the fantasy of a heroine who never needs reassurance. Even for those of us who weren’t born in the Hollywood fishbowl, it’s hard to feel confident — our minds play tricks on us, our loved ones say the wrong things, we can’t stop playing back our worst moments. For 60 years, Carrie Fisher kept living anyway. Goodbye, Carrie. We love you.