May 19, 2005
Life With Britney and Sly, Or Someone Just Like Him
By JANET MASLIN
But ”The Starter Wife” makes it essential to mention that the author is married to Brian Grazer (”her film producer husband,” as the book jacket identifies him), in addition to being a quick-witted beach book queen. Considerable perks come with such a match. And they all go up in smoke if the wife is ditched — or, as one name-dropper here puts it, ”Cruised”: jettisoned just before California’s 10-year spousal support mark is reached.
This book’s heroine, a producer’s wife named Gracie Pollock, gets Cruised so badly that her revenge fantasies are vivid indeed. ”If Gracie squinted hard,” Ms. Grazer writes, ”she could almost see him lying there, a kitchen knife embedded in his chest, his tongue poking at the corner of his mouth, his eyes open with the question, ‘Why?”’ The answer: Because he started wearing an earring and then ran off with Britney Spears.
Now Gracie is turning 41. That’s at least 50 in Hollywood-wife years. And she has been left alone with her 3-year-old daughter, whose father named her Jaden — the name of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s child — in vain hopes of casting Mr. Smith in an action picture. They have been banished to the wilderness. In this context, one that barely acknowledges the outside universe, exile means a borrowed house in the Malibu Colony.
”It was akin to telling an Olympic wrestler that he would have to compete in the women’s synchronized swimming event,” Gracie says about this abrupt demotion. Does she have the survival skills for being single? It’s a story idea in search of a sitcom, but Ms. Grazer keeps it funny for quite a while. Only when ‘The Starter Wife” starts heading for Mr. Right (”she could feel that every cell of his being was at the ready”) and a Hollywood ending does it lose its backbone.
Ms. Grazer fares best when she writes about what she knows: signs of status in a world where ”marriages were arranged by the color of your American Express card.” And as in her hilarious ”Maneater,” she displays a ruthless flair for detail and dialogue. (”CBS? Gracie didn’t know what that was, but apparently she would in her retirement years.”) But ”Maneater” was about a young woman trying to worm her way into Hollywood’s elite. The same style turns sadder at the thought of an aging character who is obsessed with body maintenance (Gracie’s arms are ”brown and muscular and hairless as newborn Chihuahuas”) and is desperate to hang on.
Staying on the right side of the Whine Line is vital to this book’s airy charm. Ms. Grazer crosses it with princessy asides like this: ”Scarier than taking a midnight stroll through Fallujah with an American flag wrapped around one’s shoulders was accompanying one’s child to the kiddie park in the Cross Creek Shopping Center on a typically crowded Saturday morning.” Further note to satirical purveyors of the show business roman a clef: leave Britney Spears out of it, O.K.? Her real life beats anything you can make up.
Besides, reality-based gossip gets stale in a hurry. (Ms. Grazer makes reference to the too-too-glamorous Pitt-Aniston union.) That point is further illustrated by ”The Twins of TriBeCa,” a novel about a certain New York movie company. Its author is Rachel Pine, a former Miramax publicist with a narrow perspective and an ax to grind. As in ”The Devil Wears Prada” (and that book’s thinly disguised version of Vogue’s Anna Wintour makes a cameo appearance here), an ex-employee’s biggest revelation about her old job is that it was grueling and dull.
Concentrating heavily on in-house sniping among Miramax publicists, ”The Twins of TriBeCa” has a tendency to myopia. We learn what they had for lunch (”soup was a favorite, however, because it required no utensils and only one hand”), that TriBeCa is the wrong neighborhood for buying pantyhose, and that publicists are taught their own special ways to lie.
”The Twins of TriBeCa” isn’t as sour as ”The Devil Wears Prada.” Its main character, called Karen Jacobs, isn’t a toxic complainer. But neither is she independently interesting; the book’s only real selling point is its attention to stars and screamers with thinly concealed identities. As she signals by calling one of this film company’s hits ”Perp Friction,” Ms. Pine isn’t concerned with dishing in a subtle way.
”Who behaves like this?” Karen asks after the star of ”The Foreign Pilot,” whose first name is Sean but is pronounced ”Sheen,” demands the use of a private jet. ”One who can,” she is told, and that seems to be the overall point. The company’s harried, frantic staff members are at the mercy of all sorts of privileged characters, including the bad-tempered twin brothers who run the place. But not even Harvey, the dog who appears in the story, has real teeth.
Ms. Pine’s readers are left with little to do but congratulate themselves for spotting the famous figures in the landscape. ”Frederick ‘Fly’ Faccione had risen to considerable fame and fortune first for his portrayal of an underdog boxer who won the hearts of a nation, and later as a vigilante Vietnam vet,” Ms. Pine writes. If you can’t decode that, please check your pulse.
At the end of ”The Twins of TriBeCa,” Karen assesses her employers: ”They fight a lot, and they scream and they curse and they’re miserable to work for,” she observes. ”But I don’t know what else there is, really.” This would have been a better book if she had.
The New York Times May 19, 2005