A fascinating, at times unsettling novel-memoir
“None of this is real and all of it is true.” –Jim Carrey
Meet Jim Carrey. Sure, he’s an insanely successful and beloved movie star drowning in wealth and privilege–but he’s also lonely. Maybe past his prime. Maybe even… getting fat? He’s tried diets, gurus, and cuddling with his military-grade Israeli guard dogs, but nothing seems to lift the cloud of emptiness and ennui. Even the sage advice of his best friend, actor and dinosaur skull collector Nicolas Cage, isn’t enough to pull Carrey out of his slump.
But then Jim meets Georgie: ruthless ingénue, love of his life. And with the help of auteur screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, he has a role to play in a boundary-pushing new picture that may help him uncover a whole new side to himself–finally, his Oscar vehicle! Things are looking up!
But the universe has other plans.
Memoirs and Misinformation is a fearless semi-autobiographical novel, a deconstruction of persona. In it, Jim Carrey and Dana Vachon have fashioned a story about acting, Hollywood, agents, celebrity, privilege, friendship, romance, addiction to relevance, fear of personal erasure, our “one big soul,” Canada, and a cataclysmic ending of the world–apocalypses within and without.
I grew up watching and loving Jim Carrey’s movies — The Mask, Ace Ventura, and Dumb and Dumber, in particular, I found hilarious when I was a teenager. Combined with my general interest in Hollywood, I’ve found Carrey’s career to be pretty interesting. When I heard that he was writing a sort-of-novelized-memoir, I was certainly intrigued. I was lucky enough to get a DRC, and I’m happy to say that it is an interesting and rewarding read. It is, however, rather strange — perhaps predictably.
Carrey is pretty critical of himself throughout Memoirs and Misinformation. Despite being one of the most famous actors in the world, I never picked up any details about his private life — pre-internet, this kind of gossip you had to hunt down, and I wasn’t interested in doing so. Therefore, I have no idea how true are the portions of the story that look at his life off-screen. Memoirs and Misinformation paints a pretty harsh picture, though: he’s needy, selfish, and often oblivious of others’ needs.
Carrey’s story covers his own uncomfortable relationship with fame and success, how they feed into his sense of self and worth — something that is entirely reinforced by the language of the Hollywood business machine.
“The movie was falling from popular consciousness. He felt his spirits fading with it, as if by unknown laws of human-industrial entanglement.”
There are effectively two halves to this novel — the first, which offers a some insight into Carrey’s past Hollywood work and his personal history. The second half… gets rather weird. Actually, very weird — it evolves into a strange, fever-dream-esque story of alien invasion and general weirdness. I did prefer the first half of the story. If you have a low tolerance for Weird, tread carefully with this novel.
Carrey is brutally honest about Hollywood and how it feeds not only itself but also the inherent narcissism of its stars. Even when the story spirals into weirdness, the novel nevertheless remains packed with sharp observations about celebrities, the culture they feed and thrive off, and the various eccentricities of the people who make-believe for a living.
“Los Angeles, a city built on golden sun and grand prizes, required strong belief in magic. Slight derangement was the first stage of the human filtration process…”
I assume he is friends with many of the named actors who appear in the novel — I know he’s friends with Nic Cage, who is portrayed as… well, very Nic Cage. Also frequently appearing are Kelsey Grammar (very loud and quite Frasier-like), Sean Penn (just as intense as you might imagine), Gwyneth Paltrow (a bit spacey); Tom Hanks (“It was impossible to hear him and not feel some restored faith in human goodness.”) There are other cameos, which are often very funny.
There are plenty of moments in which Carrey skewers CAA’s place in the Hollywood firmament, and its considerable amount of power and growing ubiquity; not to mention the growing constraints and controls that are being placed on the “talent”. It’s not always clear which comments or observations are heartfelt or truly what Carrey believes — as I have no doubt is the point — but it adds an excellent biting criticism to the novel.
If you’re familiar with his episode of Comedian in Cars Getting Coffee and his short art documentary, I Needed Color (see below), you might be able to glean a couple of truths contained in the novel. The portions of the novel about Jim preparing for Kaufmann’s Mao project made me think of the documentary Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond (available on Netflix) — the wholesale commitment to the role, the internalization of the character and so forth (the Method Acting approach), the awkward and sometimes inappropriate interpretations and creative choices… For example, the Cultural Revolution is referred to at one point as “Mao’s greatest caper”. It’s weird, sometimes funny, but I imagine it’s exhausting to experience in real life.
One example worth picking up on is his father, who enters into the narrative in some round-about ways, and it’s clear that Carrey believes he could have done so much more, but that they had quite different world-views and levels of hunger for success/the limelight.
The novel is filled with interesting observations, great turns of phrase, and a little bit of insight into one of the most famous actors of the past few decades. It is nowhere near as revealing as I’m sure many people will hope or want, but there is plenty in here to help provide a gauzy picture of Carrey and how he sees his work, life, society, and city.
A cautious recommendation, then. Reading this book will leave you with a lot to unpack and ponder. It’s unreliable by design, but it is also very interesting and engaging. I enjoyed this quite a bit, and I’d certainly be interested in reading anything else Carrey works on. (For example, an actual memoir…)