By Diane Keaton
Random House. 192 pp. $26
Diane Keaton sometimes feels bad about her neck. As she explains in “Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty,” she also occasionally feels bad about her self-described thin hair, the downward slope of her eyes and various other physical features that have begun to crinkle or buckle because of the ruthlessness of time. But Diane Keaton refuses to feel bad about one very important thing: wearing turtlenecks.
“Turtlenecks are particularly underrated,” she writes in her second memoir, a candid but rambling treatise on aging and beauty. “Buy one. I dare you. . . . Turtlenecks cushion, shield, and insulate a person from harm.” A few sentences later, however, she cautions: “If it turns out that you begin to wear turtlenecks as often as I do, and you’re my age, and you’re not Cary Grant, you will run the risk of receiving a fair amount of criticism.”
As the flag bearer for the necktie-and-bowler-hat style she pioneered in “Annie Hall” (1977), Keaton clearly knows that her appearance elicits strong opinions. (The Oscar-winner recalls the moment when she realized she’d come in fifth in an online list of “Top 10 Female Celebrities Who Are Ugly No Matter What Hollywood Says.”) The fact that she’s subject to more public scrutiny than most ladies in their late 60s — you know, the ones who haven’t previously dated Warren Beatty or Al Pacino — may make her insecurities more pronounced, but it doesn’t make them less relatable. Any woman of a certain age will likely see reflections of her own self-doubt in the critical lashings to which Keaton subjects herself in these pages, lashings that seem extra-unnecessary considering how luminous the “Something’s Gotta Give” star remains. But even if they relate to Keaton’s struggles, those female readers of a certain age still may feel disappointed by this book, which meanders through too many apropos-of-nothing anecdotes while offering too little in the way of genuine insight.
“Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty” could have been a cogent commentary on aging from the perspective of someone fighting a Hollywood system that marginalizes maturity. Instead, it’s an often too-flighty series of essays that la-di-das its way toward obvious conclusions, like the fact that attractiveness comes in many forms and colors, or that “while smiling is lovely . . . laughing is beautiful.” That may be true, but it’s also something most people knew before they opened Keaton’s book.
Keaton deserves praise and a few feminist fist bumps for having the guts to address subjects that most women, famous or not, prefer to sweep under the nearest area rug, from female baldness to fear of death to the inability to discuss such matters with colleagues. “Sometimes I wish I could talk to my contemporaries about how they’re grappling with their senior years,” she writes. “Do they wake up every morning and, like me, look in the mirror with a big sigh? Do they? Do they ask themselves what old age is for? I do.”
That Keaton is asking those questions so publicly is admirable. But in the actress’s well-intentioned but ultimately trifling attempt to come up with meaningful answers, she falls short in a way that even the highest, thickest turtleneck can’t hide.
Chaney is a pop culture writer who contributes frequently to The Washington Post.