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Probably not what you're expecting
on February 28, 2008
Emmett James was born in 1972 in South London, where he grew up watching a lot of movies with his family at the local theater. He was seduced by the cinema, eventually studied acting, and moved to Hollywood in the early 90's to try to make it as an actor. He did make it, finally, becoming a successful working actor if not a household name, most significantly landing a small part in the biggest movie of all time, Titanic. James tells the story of his life in Admit One in chapters that are named after and loosely organized around movies--films that influenced him during the period described or whose plots mirrored his own experiences, or films he appeared in. But while the pictures he selects for each chapter heading provide a framework for James's book, it's not really about the movies.
Nor is Admit One, as the above summary might suggest, an insipid story about a boy who pursued and finally achieved his dream. The author is too acerbic to have written such a book. Here he is early on, for example, describing Croydon, the borough of London in which he grew up:
"The streets were lined with filth, the people were bitter and miserable and a fantastic night out meant a large kebab rather than the regular size, which of course went hand-in-hand proportionally with the amount you would subsequently vomit later that evening."
"Unfortunately, it was that type of town, inhabited by those types of people, living that type of crap life."
James's familial relationships meet with similar criticisms. His mother had a "permanent melancholy demeanor." His maternal grandparents were an overbearing couple whose home "was always rich with the smell of old people," a smell that "left a thick, pungent coating in the fibers of your clothes.... They were," he says, "much less benign in the days of my mother's childhood." Of his brother he writes:
"My older brother was a weaselly boy named Cymon (pronounced Simon, just spelled wanky to give him some added torment in school), and for as long as memory serves we have loathed one another."
It's unfortunate that the author's experiences weren't more positive--though this is not the sort of book that leaves you feeling sorry for him. On the other hand, it's quite refreshing to see such candor on the page.
Admit One is divided into two parts. The first concerns the author's childhood in England. It has universal appeal but will probably be enjoyed particularly by readers who grew up around the same time, and who will remember BMX bikes and Star Wars tie-in merchandise as fondly as does the author. In the second half James moves to America to make his way in Hollywood. This part of the book is less personal, yet it's interesting for its depiction of the life of a struggling actor. Also fascinating is the behind-the-scenes story of his work on Titanic: whatever you're thinking that might entail, you're wrong.
Coming away from the book I'm not entirely sure that I like the author. But that's a testament to his honesty. He's not only not afraid to look stupid, but he reveals some quite unflattering truths about himself--from an ill-conceived instance of, well, something approaching stalking (in tights!), to his willingness to participate in activities both legally and morally sketchy. (He's also due for a whomping from Steven Seagal, whom he sucker punches in an open letter at the beginning of the book.)
If nothing else, James is by no means a run-of-the-mill guy. Having been given this glimpse into his history and character, it will be interesting to watch his career unfold on screen.
-- Debra Hamel