Being a likable, down-to-earth celebrity and writing a likable, down-to-earth memoir is, to borrow one of Anna Kendrick’s favorite expressions, a fool’s errand. The internet is peppered with posts such as “Anna Kendrick Is All of Us” and “15 Reasons Why Anna Kendrick Is Our Spirit Animal,” but when your relentless charm – as demonstrated on Twitter and in interviews – is being surprisingly relatable, how do you maintain that over 275 pages without seeming disingenuous?
The average reader, after all, isn’t an Oscar nominee or Broadway alumna or even minor member of the “Twilight” franchise. The average reader’s parents did not routinely schlep her from Portland, Maine, to New York City for auditions at the tender age of 10. Moreover, the expectation of a celebrity memoir is that in between cute anecdotes from childhood (“I basically came out of the womb a performer!”) and never-before-seen photos of the narrator with other famous people, it will contain some delectable gossip.
We’re not talking “Hollywood Babylon”-style sordidness or the scandal of, say, “No Lifeguard on Duty” (not every book can deliver a Janice Dickinson degree of self-disclosure), but some light secret sharing? Yes, please. Readers of the genre want to feel enthralled by an exclusive peek behind fame’s velour curtain and also smug about our normalcy.
Anticipating all this, Kendrick begins “Scrappy Little Nobody” with a few disclaimers: “So much significance is placed on something you put in a book, and I don’t care much for significance. I wish I could have called this ‘It’s not that serious’ or ‘A tweet, but longer.’ Let’s agree now that we’re just having a conversation and I happen to talk more than I listen (true in real life as well).” The 31-year-old actress and singer – star of “Up in the Air” and the “Pitch Perfect” movies – is forthright about the fact that this isn’t a tell-all but a curated collection of stories intended to entertain.
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Kendrick recalls her “double life” as a short, nerdy kid growing up in Maine – you know, the type who follows her older brother around, inquiring about the meaning of certain Cypress Hill lyrics – and a passionate performer with Shirley Temple curls who landed roles in “High Society” on Broadway and “A Little Night Music” at New York City Opera. One delicately worded anecdote about feeling intimidated by famed actress Claire Bloom gives readers an early indication that while Anna wants to entertain, she’s not here to talk trash: “If she ever reads this I hope my reverence for her is clear. But just in case it’s not: Claire, I worship you.”
Kendrick writes of eschewing college and heading to the West Coast at age 17 to pursue a full-time acting career, a decision both instinctual and terrifying: “Moving to Los Angeles felt like that dream when you’re naked in a grocery store, hoping that no one will notice. I figured I’d be discovered and thrown out at some point. I’m still waiting.” Her 20-something experiences are, in many ways, typical: sleeping on an Ikea twin bed, pretending to have fun at clubs, dating immature people and thinking empty liquor bottles make for cool apartment decor. There are plenty of professional setbacks, despite her tireless drive. The chapter “Making Movies Is a Fool’s Errand” – there’s that expression again! – recalls awkward kissing scenes, on-set injuries, wardrobe malfunctions and other cautionary tales of filmmaking.
Where “Scrappy Little Nobody” really shines – and goes well beyond Liz Lemon-y tales of misadventure – is in Kendrick’s frank musings on fame. In one scene, a stranger says something really weird to her at her grandmother’s funeral. In another, the incredibly high stakes of the “Up in the Air” press tour clash with her discomfort at being portrayed as “the ready-made ingenue”: “I knew what was happening was positive. … But pretending everything is wonderful when it’s not makes me feel mentally ill.”
This isn’t a book of crazy revelations, but it’s also not one that relies wholly on punchlines – a risk for someone whose writing has, up until this point, been solely demonstrated via a funny Twitter account. Kendrick’s storytelling style is quippy (“Like guys who play hard to get, or Tickle Me Elmo, or your first period, sometimes you only want something until you have it”), but it’s vulnerable, too. She may not dish much about fellow actors, but she comes clean about her own persistent feelings of fraudulency and inability to do laundry on a schedule. The craziest thing of all is that she manages to seem likable and down-to-earth across those 275 pages. As she says in her introduction, “I’ve tried to be honest, because honesty makes me feel less alone.”
In an era of manufactured authenticity, it’s honestly impressive.
Scrappy Little Nobody
By Anna Kendrick
Touchstone, $26.99, 275 pages