I was watching Postcards from the Edge while walking my three miles on the treadmill, and was once again impressed by the quality of the dialogue and writing in the movie.
But it was the end scene, where Mery Streep is singing that funky cowboy song I’m Checking Out, that I’ve been replaying and watching over and over again, analysing why it works so well.
For one thing, it’s a perfect epiphany. After that big scene where Meryl has it out with the mother character (Shirley Maclaine) in the hospital and the mother character admits that she’s a bit jealous of her daughter because it’s her turn.
Now it goes to the last scene where Meryl’s getting ready to sing that last number, after her mother was urging her to do more singing to revitalize her career.
Contrast this song with the earlier song at the party in the mother’s house, where the mother begs Meryl to sing only so she can actually get a chance to perform afterwards.
And notice how the mother character can’t stop herself from giving Meryl direction even as she’s singing so beautifully (telling her to take off her jacket) and mouthing the words of the song, very appropriately chosen as You Don’t Know Me.
Nothing of course is an accident, and the fact that she’s singing that song to a room full of mostly her mother’s friends, and to her mother too, is of course obviously symbolic.
Now go to that last scene again, where Meryl starts singing, saying she’s on the way out of heartbreak hotel, quietly at first, and then building to a powerful crescendo.
And watch where your attention is drawn.
At the beginning of the second verse, the camera angle changes to reaction shots of the audience. And you see the intensity of the director, played by Gene Hackman, watching Meryl perform.
Notice how Gene and the camera men are not smiling. That is exactly how it would be, they’re too intensely watching to see if it’s a good take, but then the camera pans up and you see that the lighting guys and other workers in the rigging are not only smiling, but they’re nodding their heads in time to the music and tapping their feet to the rhythm, as if they can’t help themselves.
And then finally, way up the top, the camera comes to the mother who is no longer mouthing the words but instead has a huge smile on her face.
I’ve seen that smile.
It’s the smile of someone who can see through the ‘enchantment’ of the performance, who knows all the tricks and techniques that the performer is using, but is impressed with the performance anyway.
It’s funny. I’d seen it so many times before but only on the faces of experienced performers who happen to be in the audience, not usually on the general public. They’ll often be smiling too, but not quite in the same way.
And now I realize why.
Try to check it out. It really is a beautifully done scene, a perfect ending for the movie, and Meryl Streep once again shows how fine an actor she really is!