Actress Diane Keaton’s new memoir feels like we’re sitting beside the Oscar-winning actress on a therapist’s couch.
“Then Again” lets Keaton, best known for roles in “Annie Hall,” “The Godfather” and “Something’s Gotta Give,” open her soul for a most unconventional look at her life.
“Then Again” is like two memoirs in one, the tale of a gifted but insecure actress and her ma, a woman whose artistic talent lacked the outlet her daughter possessed.
Keaton rights that wrong in “Then Again,” a book that’s vigorously self-reflective without being boastful. The beguiling Keaton isn’t like many of her acting peers, and her thoughtful essays reflective that fact.
Keaton’s life story is told in dreamy passages, diary entries and other textual collages. Chronological order feels like a nuisance for Keaton, a writer far more interested in sharing the nuances of her personality and the role Mama Hall played in her life.
When we hear about her acting lessons, the sudden bursts of fame or her tabloid romances with Woody Allen, Warren Beatty and Al Pacino it feels like an afterthought.
Oh, and by the way, Woody and I broke up before shooting “Annie Hall” but we remained dear friends for decades.
Narrative means little to the author, it’s more about presenting herself and her mother in a way that reflects their personalities, hopes and fears. The older Hall lived a stereotypical life as a happy mother, house maker and wife, but all along she chafed at how that image restricted her.
Keaton, by stark contrast, found fame in Hollywood, shared a bed with some of the industry’s most handsome leading men but either avoided or couldn’t sustain a committed relationship like her parents.
Gossip hounds will pore over the love letters Keaton received from Allen and Beatty and chuckle over the bursts of celebrity trash Keaton gently recycles. Marlon Brando’s only words to her on the set of “The Godfather” were sexually demeaning, and Jack Nicholson’s randy image gets turned upside down when we learn how he shared his slice of the profits from “Something’s Gotta Give” with a stunned Keaton.
We also learn Keaton thought Allen had a great body, and that the actress can’t spare a negative word about her old flames. And, if the tabloids have taught us anything, each could use a condemnation or two for their romantic exploits.
“Godfather” fanatics will nod their heads as they read about the turmoil on the set of the third saga in the film franchise, as creator Francis Ford Coppola furiously rewrote scenes at the last minute to wrap up the feature.
“Then Again” can be an infuriating read. We get hints at her acting methods, but not much more. Keaton invites us into her personal relationships yet we remain at arm’s length, never learning exactly why they withered away. And while Keaton’s shock hit “Something’s Gotta Give” proved that Hollywood can occasionally embrace an older woman’s love story, we get little details about the fight to make it happen.
Yet Keaton can be remarkably candid, a trait her fellow actors may not share.
“Without a great man writing and directing for me, I was a mediocre movie star at best,” she says after Allen struck up a relationship with Mia Farrow, leaving Keaton behind.
“Then Again” wraps not without any celebrity triumph, but with the slow, ravaging decline of Keaton’s mother to age and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a tribute to the Oscar-winner that she sees this as her memoir’s most poignant moment, and not the kind of Hollywood award or tribute an actress of her gifts has or will receive.