Hello, He Lied

David Futrelle reviews "Hello, He Lied and Other Truths from the Hollywood Trenches" by Lynda Obst.

By David Futrelle
Published September 4, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

Deprived of its scandals, its patina of sordid glamour, Hollywood would be a dull place indeed. The actual making of films, almost all agree, is a tedious affair; and while the stars themselves are often quite nice to look at, those who've studied them carefully note that, with few exceptions, they tend to be dumb as a box of rock stars. It's no wonder so many of the "classic" books on Hollywood -- from Kenneth Anger's "Hollywood Babylon" to Julia Phillips' "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again" -- come drenched in sleaze.

Producer Lynda Obst (Flashdance, Sleepless in Seattle) wants to keep eating lunch in Hollywood, which is perhaps why her new account of life in the Hollywood trenches is such a tiresome read. "Hello, He Lied" recounts Obst's own travels in our modern Babylon, from her beginnings as a journalist to her current position as big-time producer. It's a story, alas, much less interesting than it sounds.

In part, this is because Obst tries so hard to avoid being "mean" that she's left with almost nothing to say. She praises her Hollywood friends extravagantly, but when she stoops to criticize, she almost never names names. ("When you trash someone on the record," she notes, "you will pay.") Indeed, the only real people she has the guts to criticize are those she knows she'll never have to lunch with -- Phillips, for one, a "stoned" ex-producer who "trash[ed] her own Rolodex for cash."

Worse yet, for all of her Hollywood experience, Obst simply hasn't learned the basics of storytelling. Her anecdotes have neither beginning nor end; she'll plunge into the middle of a tale without first giving us the beginning, then drop it uncompleted to plunge into another equally pointless mass of details. Obst treats us several times to the details of her "rescue" of the film "Bad Girls" from a production meltdown -- without ever wondering if perhaps this was a film that deserved to die in childbirth.

Her breezy tone suggests that Obst is (at least sporadically) attempting to write in a humorous vein; in this attempt she does not succeed. At times, Obst seems to suffer from the delusion that she's writing some sort of self-help book, interrupting her narrative (such as it is) to treat us to numbered lists of Hollywood "truths," tired reflections on personal empowerment, dating hints and even little disquisitions advising what to wear on set. "Hello, He Lied" is as self-absorbed and sycophantic as Hollywood itself. It would make a terrible movie. It's already made a terrible book.

David Futrelle

David Futrelle, a regular Sneak Peeks contributor, has written for The Nation, Newsday, and Lingua Franca.

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