Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Swashbuckling sweetness

Cary Elwes (with help from Joe Layden) has written a charming book about a charming movie. As You Wish is Elwes' memoir about the production of The Princess Bride, which is of course itself an adaptation of the wonderful William Goldman novel of the same name.

Elwes recounts the story of making the sleeper hit with a kind touch, pulling heavily from his co-stars' and production crew's memories of crafting a film that nobody expected to become a family classic. The book is an easy, fast read that never digs too deeply into the nitty-gritty nastiness that's so common in film memoirs but instead recalls friendships formed on sets and touching moments with ROUSs and giants alike.

Everyone who lent their voice to the book is unfailingly sweet, sometimes frustratingly so. Elwes himself is the harshest voice in the book, and even then all his ire is directed inward at his foolishness for injuring himself with a frivolous ATV ride. I had rather hoped that Mandy Patinkin might have something harsh to say about his grueling fencing practice, or that Robin Wright might express some horror at the thought of being set on fire during her first day of filming, but none of that ever happens. As You Wish sets up film-making itself as a fairytale experience (at least with Rob Reiner at the helm) almost on par with the story of Buttercup and Westley. Growing up in LA and visiting film lots and attending at least a couple of auditions I'm inclined to glance askance at this rose-tinted view, but The Princess Bride was an indie film made three decades ago by a bunch of people you only ever hear lovely things about so maybe it was just as great to make as it is to watch.

I'm a bit of a cynic (which is probably sparklingly clear from the general content of this blog) so I found the syrup-sweet "she was great to work with, just an absolute trooper" and "he was a teddy-bear, never got mad, everyone loved him" tone throughout the book a bit taxing, but there are anecdotes scattered in the pages that cracked the shields around my cold and bitter heart. Reading that Wallace Shawn (the clever Sicilian) was acting in constant fear that he'd be fired was endearing, and hearing that Rob Reiner had to be banished from the set while Billy Crystal took his hilarious turn as Miracle Max was certainly something cheerful to think about. Most of what I enjoyed, though, was Elwes and Co. talking about Andre the Giant - telling stories about him messing around on set, describing the tremendous volumes of food and drink he consumed, that was expected; getting a lesson about discrimination and hypervisibility kick-started by a fart on set was wholly unexpected, and one of the best moments of the book.

If you're a fan of The Princess Bride you will probably enjoy Elwes' memoir and appreciate the background details that get filled in through stories from the cast and a lovely set of production stills. If you aren't already a fan there's probably nothing between the covers that will convert you. This book is a decent afternoon's distraction, full of warmth and bright little moments of joy - just like the movie it's about.

     - Alli

Elwes, Cary, with Joe Layden. As You Wish. Touchstone. New York: New York. 2014.

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