While many of you will probably best recognize Busy Philipps from shows like Freaks and Geeks or Cougar Town, some of you may only know of her as that actress in a few things you like. Perhaps you’ve seen her on a few awards season red carpets on the arm of her best friend Michelle Williams. Or maybe you’re one of the 1.3m people feverishly following her Instagram stories, where she offers a filter-free insight into B-List celebrity and its peculiar economy. In some ways, Philipps is a pioneer: She was one of the first major stars to utilize the reality T.V show style form of Instagram to not only build a new personal image but turn it into a profitable brand. She’s even candidly admitted that doing #sponcon on social media makes her more money these days than acting, despite 20 years in the business. Philipps has gone from being the token BFF in every rom-com - whenever Judy Greer or Kathryn Hahn was busy - to the real-time BFF of the internet who lets you into her glitzy but shambolic life. For some, it’s addictive.
Now, she’s brought those chatty qualities to the printed page with her first book, a collection of autobiographical essays titled This Will Only Hurt a Little. Soon, she’ll have her own late-night talk show on E!, making her one of the few women lucky enough to have that position. Even now, the brand synergy continues.
This Will Only Hurt a Little mixes pieces on Philipps’ adolescence in Scottsdale, Arizona, with her small rise to fame through television and her attempts to keep working in an industry where trends and faces are fleeting. Most of the headlines will be about the dirt she spills, although said scandals are either familiar or relatively tame. We all knew James Franco was a douchebag, for example, and it’s of no shock to anyone that Katie Holmes was professional, if a little cold, on the set of Dawson’s Creek. The real details come when Philipps chattily but candidly talks about the cold hard reality of her vein of celebrity: What happens when you’re wanted but are still utterly disposable in the eyes of every old white man in the room?
This thesis leads Philipps to detail the particular microaggressions, and often flat-out aggressions, she has experienced that will feel keenly familiar to many women. The James Franco instance, wherein he pushed her to the ground while filming a scene in Freaks and Geeks, has been reported on before. But what Philipps expands upon is the emotional pain of knowing that the more famous and beloved man on a set full of men will forever be excused for the inexcusable, and Franco’s bullying is downplayed by their bosses as a mere side-effect of Hollywood. Another example focuses on Philipps’s ex-boyfriend, Craig Cox, stealing her idea for a screenplay then trying to remove her credit once it got made (no, seriously, did you know Busy Philipps came up with the story for Blades of Glory? Now you do). Hollywood, from Philipps’s experience, is an endless spiel of gaslighting, fat-shaming (particularly after she gives birth), low-pay, and diminishing of any success you eventually earn. It’s not an encouraging view, but it’s not meant to be.
Philipps’s teenage years are even rawer. A chapter focusing on the sexual assault she experienced at the age of 14 hits home hard, as Philipps details her eagerness to please the man who raped her and her long journey to find the words to understand what actually happened to her. Her simultaneous strength and weakness as a storyteller is in her breeziness, as the book tries to replicate the feeling of her ‘cozy drinks with friends’ mood of her Instagram stories. When talking about issues of this magnitude, the full emotional force is still potently felt. It’s a style similar to the way your pals can swiftly reveal the most heart-aching truths sandwiched between their usual quips.
Whether this approach will work for you is dependent on how you feel about Philipps’s voice. A lot of the book reads as if she dictated her stream-of-consciousness into a microphone, which has its charms but cannot help but feel unstructured. The book benefits from Philipps’s enthusiasm, a welcome contrast from a sea of way too many actors and comedians who wouldn’t shut up throughout their own books about how much they didn’t want to be writing a book. For Busy, this is another welcome opportunity for her to do what she does best.
Given how much Philipps’s star rose because of Instagram — and she openly admits that it’s basically the reason she got a publishing deal — it is somewhat disappointing that she barely covers that era of her work in the book. The new economy of celebrity that Philipps has mastered so efficiently is one that’s calling out for an insider’s perspective, and there’s no one better primed for such an occasion. If you’ve ever followed Philipps on Instagram, you’ll have seen some of the greatest hits, such as the encounter with the Uber driver and possible murderer, but little is developed upon in the book. It’s reasonable that Philipps would know her audience for this book are probably aware of those stories and that she did not want to repeat herself, but it can’t help but leave the latter parts of the book feeling rushed and a bit bland. There’s no real sense of the magnitude this seemingly mundane activity had on her career and public presence, which it most certainly did. So much of the book is focused on how tough the entertainment business is, something Philipps conveys with brash wit and palpable frustration, but there’s little on how this gels with her new life as an internet celebrity. Other people have written great profiles on the subject, but it’s Busy you want to hear from.
This Will Only Hurt a Little will not win over any cynics. It’s very much an instance of preaching to the converted, but being that storyteller in your circle of friends is what Busy Philipps excels at and you can’t fault someone for succeeding at the very thing they set out to do.
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