A 20-something playwright and actor’s memoir about her childhood journey to Hollywood fame and teenage descent into contented semiobscurity.
Wilson began acting at age 5. After pestering her mother to let her do commercials like her older brother, she was soon called to audition for a part in the Robin Williams vehicle Mrs. Doubtfire. Her role in that film led to appearances on TV shows like Melrose Place and in movies like Miracle on 34th Street and Matilda, a film with which she would become permanently identified. Yet from an early age, Wilson realized that her cuteness, compared to Shirley Temple’s audience-pleasing good looks, could render her susceptible to the kind of studio control that Temple had faced. “Everyone in the world [would know] a version of Mara Wilson that wasn’t me at all,” she writes. By the time she was a teenager, the looks that had brought her early fame could not compete with those of other young actresses like Kristen Stewart and Scarlett Johansson. Refusing to use cosmetic surgery to try to save a career she questioned, Wilson began to focus more on dealing with who she was: a girl with deep fears and compulsions that had emerged in childhood and had begun affecting her daily life and relationships. Despite her disenchantment with Hollywood, she retained a love of performing, which she continued to do as a student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and which she eventually merged with another childhood love: storytelling. Immersing herself in a community that included other storytellers, stand-up comedians, and burlesque show performers who showed her the power and joy in “liv[ing] your fear,” the author at last found herself, “her people,” and her creative stride. This funny, at times painful, but always honest book tells a coming-of-age story that is not only entertaining, but also wise. Learning the lessons of self-acceptance and finding strength in vulnerability is often the best success of all.
A readably candid, sharp memoir.