“Managing Expectations” About Life, Hollywood, Weinstein
If you want to get to know Oscar-nominated celebrity Minnie Driver, skip ahead to chapter seven of her memoir in essays, “Managing Expectations” (HarperOne, 288 pp., ★★★ of Four, Tuesday). There, she talks about her jaw-dropping experience landing a starring role on “Good Will Hunting,” dating Matt Damon, and responding to rude and dismissive comments about her appeal to disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein. (This, she writes, is from a man “whose shirts were always aggressively encrusted with egg/tuna/mayo.”)
But it’s worth starting at the beginning of Driver’s book, which is full of concise and pointed memories of his rebellion and determination. As a child, she was frustrated by her parents’ separation, irritating their new partners and seeking escape. Sometimes these escapes were metaphorical retreats into singing and acting. Others involved real distance: In one chapter, she recalls offending her father’s girlfriend so much that her father sent 11-year-old Driver back to England on his own from Barbados. During a layover at a Miami hotel, she nearly empties the gift shop, and the adult driver can see her venting her anger at how “new people roam our landscape and no one but me think it’s weird.”
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In other words, she learned early on to distrust authority, which turned out to be great preparation for Hollywood. Her breakout role in the acclaimed 1995 independent film “Circle of Friends” didn’t mean she could avoid auditioning for a chocolate commercial where she was asked to fake an orgasm. (“I’ll need you to do it twice,” the director tells her. “Once normally, then enlarge the second one – which will be used for the Dutch market.”) She is enthusiastically introduced to Al Pacino but with the wrong name. She’s constantly perplexed by showbiz, not because she feels superior, but because it’s often fickle, sexist, and humiliating.
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So “Managing Expectations” is often at its peak in its most intimate moments, when it researches the kinds of relationships that were denied to it as a child and could only fake for the cameras. She is delighted to get pregnant at 37, although she was told her age and a bend in her womb made that unlikely. (“A toilet-shaped geriatric uterus had made my baby. I was a headline from the National Enquirer.”) Traveling home by boat to Malibu, Calif., which has been closed due to wildfires, she reflects on his failed relationships: “I cut through the water with a speed that I had saved up recently to sprint away from bad thoughts.
The fiercest writing in “Managing Expectations” is in its final chapter about his mother, fashion designer Gaynor Churchward, who died last year following a cancer diagnosis. Driver weaves his interactions with his mother and family with growing fury at the noise the rain makes on the hospital’s plastic skylight, “the gentrified tarp they thought was appropriate to serve as a roof.”
Driver’s memoir isn’t filled with celebrity gossip or outsized personal trauma. But it does reflect an actor’s close attention to strange, infuriating and heartbreaking behavior all around her, conveyed with wit and poise.