Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review - The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Short review: Carrie Fisher found some old diaries she wrote when she was filming Star Wars and having an affair with Harrison Ford. She used them as the basis for a book.

When filming Star Wars
Fisher had a fling with Ford
Now she remembers

Full review: In 1977, the movie Star Wars transformed the awkward and insecure Carrie Fisher from "Debbie Reynolds' daughter who also had a bit part in Warren Beatty's movie Shampoo" into Princess Leia, a title she would wear for the rest of her life. She played the part again in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and forty years later she came back to the role in The Force Awakens (and will presumably also appear in the forthcoming The Last Jedi). Though Fisher appeared in dozens of other roles on both the big and small screen, after 1977, she would forever after be first and foremost Princess Leia. The Princess Diarist is part memoir, part diary, and part self-reflection, with Fisher looking back upon what amounts to her lifetime sentence to playing the role of an entirely different person.

The catalyst for this book was Fisher's rediscovery of a set of diaries that she wrote during the filming of the original Star Wars back in 1976. These diaries form the foundation of The Princess Diarist, but they mostly serve to launch Fisher into a series of reminiscences about her life growing up as Debbie Reynolds' daughter, her acting background and romantic history before she arrived on the set of Star Wars, and then some reflection from forty years later on what that time in her life meant to her. To be blunt, the printed portions from the 1976 diaries are the weakest part of the book. The woman Carrie Fisher grew up to be was impressive in many ways - from her skills as an actress and script doctor, to the take no prisoners attitude of a woman who bit back at questions about her weight and took her dog Gary to interviews, but the girl Carrie Fisher was at nineteen was, well, she was an unsure, inexperienced, and awkward nineteen year old. To be perfectly honest, the inner thoughts of a typical nineteen-year old are kind of dopey, and while Fisher had grown up in the limelight, her educational background was relatively indifferent, resulting in the kind of inner thoughts that seem pretty humdrum overall.

The diaries are mostly interesting for two reasons, neither of which are really related to the actual content. First, they are interesting because they reveal that the thoughts of nineteen year old Fisher were pretty much the same as the hopes and dreams of many other nineteen year olds, despite the fact that she was in the midst of filming a movie that would essentially change cinema forever. The fact that the diaries written by someone participating in the creation of a cultural landmark were so astonishingly banal is a somewhat interesting note. This is, however, the lesser of the two reasons these diaries are interesting. The real reason anyone cares about this particular set of diaries is that the man that Fisher was mooning over with her overwrought teenage prose and poetry was Harrison Ford, with whom she was having a secret and kind of awkward affair at the time.

A lot of the buzz about the book related to the revelation of this affair, which was considered to be somewhat scandalous because not only was Ford thirty-five when he had this liaison with nineteen year old Fisher, he was also married to Mary Marquardt at the time and the father of two young sons. One thing that is somewhat interesting is that while Fischer acknowledges the existence of Ford's wife in the book, she doesn't mention her by name and for the most part doesn't even really consider this situation from her perspective. This is somewhat excusable in the diary sections of the book - after all, nineteen year old kids are notoriously self-absorbed - but it seems like an odd omission in the reflective sections that come before and after the diary excerpts in which Fisher tries, from a forty year distance, to reflect upon and put into context the whirlwind romance she had shared with Ford. Other than this somewhat conspicuous omission, everything about the affair is pretty banal, whether one is reading about it via the overwrought prose of a teenager's diary or through the more world-weary and snarky version that Fisher uses to frame her earlier thoughts. As Fisher says at one point in the book, she and Ford had a three-month long one-night stand, and that's pretty much about as significant as the affair seems to have been to either of them. This results in a story that is salacious and mildly titillating, but ultimately not very compelling.

To a certain extent, the same is true of the entire book. For the most part, Fisher's accounts are readable and humorous, but they are mostly only noteworthy because they involve her, and not because the stories being recounted are anything more than ordinary. Fisher's story about being cast in Shampoo is a fun little interlude, but it is a story that seems similar to that of a thousand other actors getting their first on-screen role. When Fisher recounts the whirlwind her life became after Star Wars was released, the account seems similar to the stories told by countless other celebrities riding the pop culture wave of a hit movie. Fisher's discussion about going to science fiction conventions to sign autographs and get her picture taken in exchange for money will only be revelatory to people who have never been to a large media style convention, although her description of the routine as being a "celebrity lap dance" is pretty much both on the nose and funny. While the first section and the last section that surround the diary entries are much more enjoyable to read, this is mostly because Fisher became a lot better as a writer in the intervening forty years, not because the stories themselves were particularly notable.

The Princess Diarist is a fun little book that gives a snapshot into the life of a woman on the edge of phenomenal superstardom and a bit of reflection and self-deprecating humor from the superstar that she became. That said, there's nothing particularly outstanding about the book unless one considers the details of what amounts to a pretty staid forty-year old infatuation to be "shocking" in some way. This is, in the end, a fairly light book filled with funny anecdotes told in a humorous and irreverent manner. Anyone looking for a deep and meaningful experience is likely to be disappointed by this volume's contents, but anyone looking to spend just a little bit more time with the snarky and irascible Princess turned General that her fans now miss will find this to be just the prescription they need to fill the void for just a little bit of time.

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