The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A Neurotic Filmmaker’s Life Story

He describes Penny Marshall’s daily breakfast on “Big” as consisting of “a dozen White Castle hamburgers and a carton of Marlboros,” and he notes the producer Scott Rudin’s peculiar habit of leaving messages for people he has no interest in actually talking to. As Sonnenfeld writes, “Scott just wanted to remind you he was out there. After trading calls for a week, you’d realize if Rudin really wanted to speak to you, he’d find a way.”

Sonnenfeld doesn’t mind letting you see him with egg on his face, either, as when he chases Warren Beatty for the lead role in the crime caper “Get Shorty,” only to have the actor tell him: “I look like Warren Beatty. Warren Beatty wouldn’t be a numbers runner.”

Still, it’s surprising that, for all his candor, Sonnenfeld doesn’t have a chapter about the making of “Men in Black,” an enormous hit that yielded a multi-film franchise, nor does he reckon with the failure of his notorious 1999 flop, “Wild Wild West.”

There is one aspect of the book I haven’t addressed yet. At the start of his memoir, Sonnenfeld writes of a family member he calls Cousin Mike the Child Molester, who slept on his living room couch and preyed upon children Sonnenfeld knew, as well as the author himself. When, as an adult, Sonnenfeld confronted his father about Cousin Mike’s abominable misconduct, his father was unapologetic, replying that “child molestation didn’t have the same stigma back then that it has now” before his rationalization somehow turned even more repulsive. Near the end of the book, Sonnenfeld returns to the story of Cousin Mike, describing in more detail how he was abused and disclosing that, according to Kelly, Cousin Mike eventually died of AIDS.

These are sad, sickening acts; it is devastating to learn that Sonnenfeld was subjected to them and heartening to know that he has survived them. It takes him, I think, a couple of attempts to set his account down on the page — the earlier section on Cousin Mike is written with some of the same ironic detachment that Sonnenfeld uses throughout the book, and it feels off, but the later section is sober and harrowing.

If these passages feel jarringly out of sync with the rest of the memoir, I suppose that is unavoidable and almost by design. They are moments where Sonnenfeld has truly put himself out there, as is and unguarded, without concern for an audience’s judgment or approval.

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