After finishing Diane Keaton’s new book, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, I thought, “Huh. The title perfectly describes how I felt about reading this book.” Keaton, an Oscar-winning comedienne/actress and sometimes director, wrote her memoir, Then Again in 2011, and it was warmly received. The unconventional autobiography was charming, funny, poignant, and often very sad. It was a minor triumph, which made her follow-up tome highly anticipated. Unfortunately, instead of growing from that promising debut, she disappoints with this strange collection of essays.
The theme of the book is loosely tied around the concept of beauty. Keaton feels that she doesn’t measure up to Hollywood’s standards of beauty: she feels her nose is too bulbous, her eyes droop, her hair’s too thin. She refuses to undergo plastic surgery, but takes pain to remind her readers that she thinks it’s okay if women choose to have work done. The end result, however, is it feels as if we’re stuck with Keaton on a long flight, and she insists on chatting, even if she doesn’t have all that much to say.
I wanted to like this book because Keaton’s appeal lies in her likability. And it feels either disingenuous or pitiful that a woman of Keaton’s privilege, success, wealth, and attractiveness would yammer on about how she feels homely. It’s clear that Keaton’s sartorial choices – her penchant for turtle necks, baggy suits, big hats, and gloves – work in hiding Keaton’s skin. Thankfully, she has enough self-awareness to acknowledge that her dress sense is eccentric.
But unfortunately, too much of Keaton’s writing is indulgent and self-pitying. It’s pretty shocking, actually, to read, just how shallow some of the actress’s concerns really are – and when she writes about her family life, it’s tedious and mundane. As an actress/comedienne, she’s a fascinating character with an engaging persona, but as a mother and Los Angelino, she’s very ordinary – none of her parenting stories are all that interesting: her son is very affectionate, but embarrassed when his mom strolls into school barefoot; her daughter is gratefully free of any body issues or hang ups; she likes to walk through the woods with her dog and sometimes and is prone to injury; the house is full of noise and excitement; it’s merely a tale of a wealthy Hollywood matron who is raising two kids. By all accounts, Keaton’s a good mom, but she doesn’t offer any insight to motherhood, nor is her experience all that inspirational (though it could be aspirational).
As expected, there are some showbiz figures that pop up – Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Carol Kane, Paul McCartney, Candice Bergen, and of course, Woody Allen, all get shout outs. It’s interesting to read about Keaton’s friendship with Allen, given the recent revival of scandal that the famous director is going through; despite their romantic relationship being over for decades, the two remained close, and she writes warmly of the man. How readers will feel about these passages depends on how they feel about Allen. When Allen was honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press with a Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes, Keaton was on hand to accept the award on his behalf, gushing about her Svengali, even breaking into the Girl Scouts theme song, “Make New Friends.” She got some so-so press for her performance, but there’s a sincere love and affection (and some uncomfortable reverence) for Allen. When she writes of Allen, the book does manage to shape up into something interesting.
Also good is when Keaton discusses comedy. As a screen comic, it’s interesting to hear how she views comedy. And it’s interesting to read who her comic heroes are: along with the usual suspects like Buster Keaton, the Three Stooges, and of course, Allen, Keaton sings the praises of Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, as well as Adam Sandler and the rest of the cast of Grown Ups 2 (it’s a neat image to picture Keaton sitting in a darkened cinema with her sons and his gang of fellow tweens guffawing at the antics of Sandler and company in the ridiculous comedy). It’s when Keaton isn’t musing about beauty, sexiness, or womanhood, that she as a writer shines best. When writing about her film work, the book shows the engaging and appealing promise that was obvious in her first book.
In the canon of comedians writing books of essays, Keaton’s will undoubtedly slip away into obscurity. There are far too few laughs and most of the personal and poignant revelations she’s had were already shared in Then Again. Instead, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty feels like a tossed off collection, thrown together to satisfy her publishers. As evident through her interviews and her performances, Keaton’s a very funny, interesting and intelligent woman – it’s too bad that little of that is seen in her book.