Book review: Wildflower tells of Drew Barrymore’s stable years

Second autobiography lacks the punch of actress and producer’s troubled youth

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 January, 2016, 4:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 January, 2016, 4:00am

Wildflower

by Drew Barrymore

Dutton

3 stars

Naomi Fry

The pull quote on the back of the paperback edition of actress Drew Barrymore’s memoir Little Girl Lost, co-authored with journalist Todd Gold and published in 1990 when she was just 15, doesn’t beat around the bush: “I had my first drink at age nine, began smoking marijuana at 10, and at 12 took up cocaine.”

With a mother who set few boundaries and relied on her as a breadwinner starting when she was just a baby, and an absent, out-of-his-mind father (a scion of the storied but troubled Barrymore acting clan), the odds seemed stacked against her.

But during the following 25 years, Barrymore has become a successful actor, movie producer, beauty-company co-founder, even the entrepreneur behind a boutique wine label, as well as a wife and mother of two young daughters. This newfound stability, however, poses a problem for her recent memoir, Wildflower. It is missing those elements of truth in suffering that had pulled us into her younger life in Little Girl Lost.

This feels like a missed opportunity, since Barrymore conceivably still has a pretty big story to tell in this follow-up book. Even for those who may not be as nosily fascinated as myself in the minutiae of her Hollywood love affairs over the years (Fabrizio Moretti of the Strokes, Eric Erlandson of Hole, that random make-out session with Gossip Girl’s Ed Westwick back in 2008), there’s so much left to examine. Chiefly, this: how did the parentless, bereft child of the late ’80s become the stable, prosperous mogul of the 2010s?

To be fair, Barrymore does note from the start that she’s not interested in writing a sweeping memoir that would give a full account of her life. Working non-chronologically and touching on moments from her childhood as well as adulthood, Barrymore uses a recurring format: a brief recounting of a story from her past, with its end rounded out with some sort of lesson she has learned from that experience, more often than not figured in a writing relentless with exclamation marks.

In a section about growing up essentially fatherless, for instance: “A stable, loving family is something that should absolutely, fundamentally never ever be taken for granted! I am lucky that I got dealt some cards that showed me what it’s like to not have a family, and I am much luckier to now have the chance to create my own deck!”

There is more than a dollop of bootstrappy self-help in the book (about success in business: “I have an insane work ethic! I am strict with myself. I’m trained to work. I don’t know life without it. You have to kill yourself. Do your homework. Exhaust yourself.”) We also get some bland stories of Barrymore’s friendships and relationships (skydiving with Cameron Diaz), none of which are particularly revealing. There are some nice, loving missives Barrymore addresses to her young daughters, but it’s not totally clear why these should be shared in a book rather than simply given to them.

The Guardian