Starting with his childhood in Croyden, James takes the reader through his life as a boy in London and eventually as an actor in Hollywood. The book seems to split cleanly into two pieces along these lines. His boyhood was a fairly normal if poor one and he invokes images of childhood that anyone who grew up around the same time will recognize and appreciate. He can be faintly snarky about Croyden, his family, and his exploits growing up but I found these entertaining and funny. The section focused on his life in Hollywood trying to make it as an actor ramps up the entertainment factor as he honestly portrays some of the shifty things he does to get noticed or just to have fun. He discusses his career in forgery, his porn film debut, his roles as an extra, and meeting the parents of a boy he "reconnstructed" who died horribly. Ultimately James is really one of the lucky ones because he does get some breaks, including a role in Titanic.
The short chapters are headed by plot synopses of films that either influenced James or parallel the narrative within the chapter. It's an intriguing and fairly successful way of structuring the memoir. The films themselves are not under discussion in the chapters, they are merely foils to James' life. This distinction might disappoint film afficianados but for the regular Janes among us who might not have seen all the movies listed (::ahem:: like me), it works well, offering a small glimpse of the theme to come. The writing is honest and open but witty and occasionally biting. James doesn't shy away from presenting himself warts and all. What he doesn't present so much though, is a depth and an emotion to his story. It stays mostly on the surface, skimming from event to event without offering a deeper insight. For instance, his only mention of his marriage comes after his plot summary for the movie Green Card and the extent of the chapter is "Life imitates art. Enough said." While this gets a chuckle, it is indicative of the way in which he shies away from heavy emotional content throughout the memoir. It still works as light fare but there's still a slight sense of lack as a result. Over all, James' story is appealing and anyone interested in an insider's view of Hollywood, uncluttered by unreality as presented in magazines and tabloids, will appreciate this decidedly funny, conversational, and very different memoir. James has captured both the magic of childhood and the magic of movies. I hope he gets the chance to play himself in the film.
Thanks to Lisa at Online Publicist for sending me a copy of the book for review.