If you want to get to know Minnie Driver the Oscar-nominated celebrity, skip straight to chapter seven of her memoir in essays, “Managing Expectations” (HarperOne, 288 pp., ★★★ out of four, out Tuesday). There, she dishes about her head-spinning experience landing a prime role in “Good Will Hunting,” dating costar Matt Damon and fielding gross, dismissive comments about her attractiveness from disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein. (This, she writes, from a man “whose shirts were always aggressively encrusted with egg/tuna fish/mayo.”)
But it’s worth it to start at the beginning of Driver’s book, which is full of pithy and sharp recollections of her rebelliousness and determination. As a child, she was frustrated at her parents’ split, chafing at their new partners and seeking escape. Sometimes those escapes were metaphorical retreats into singing and acting. Others involved real distance: In one chapter, she recalls offending her father’s girlfriend so badly that her dad sent 11-year old Driver home to England from Barbados by herself. At a stopover in a Miami hotel, she all but clears out the gift shop, and the grown-up Driver can see her sublimating her anger at the way “new people wander into our landscape and nobody but me thinks it’s weird.”
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In other words, she learned early to be skeptical of authority, which turned out to be excellent preparation for Hollywood. Her breakout role in the acclaimed 1995 indie film “Circle of Friends” didn’t mean she could avoid auditioning for a chocolate ad where she’s asked to fake an orgasm. (“I’ll need you to do it twice,” the director tells her. “Once just normally, then make the second one bigger – that’ll be used for the Netherlands market.”) She’s introduced glowingly to Al Pacino but with the wrong name. She’s consistently bemused by showbiz, not because she feels superior to it, but because it’s so often fickle, sexist and humiliating.
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So “Managing Expectations” is often at its strongest in its more intimate moments, when she seeks the kinds of connections she was denied as a child and could only fake for the cameras. She’s thrilled at becoming pregnant at 37, despite being told her age and a bend in her uterus made it unlikely. (“A geriatric, toilet-shaped uterus had made my baby. I was a National Enquirer headline.”) Sneaking her way home by boat to Malibu, California, which was closed off due to wildfires, she ponders her failed relationships: “I cut through the water with a speed I’d been saving recently for sprinting away from bad thoughts.”
The fiercest writing in “Managing Expectations” is in its concluding chapter about her mother, fashion designer Gaynor Churchward, who died last year following a cancer diagnosis. Driver weaves her interactions with her mother and family with a slow-growing fury at the noise the rain makes on the hospital’s plastic skylight, “the gentrified tarpaulin they thought fit to serve as a roof.”
Driver’s memoir isn’t filled with much in the way of celebrity gossip or outsize personal trauma. But it reflects an actor’s close attention to strange, exasperating, heartbreaking behavior all around her, conveyed with wit and poise.