Title: How Not to Succeed in Hollywood
Author: Marissa Thomas
Reviewed by: Carol Davala
Pacific Book Review
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” is a wise adage that reverberates throughout Marissa Thomas’ humorous and enlightening read How Not to Succeed in Hollywood. Here, Thomas renders her own life experience through the story of Lisa, a young woman who sets out upon a journey to become an actor in the all too competitive entertainment field. From hometown Minneapolis to the enticement of the West Coast, Lisa’s dream career takes her on a winding path. Along the way she encounters both theatrical highs and inevitable real life lows which often derail many a wannabe starlet’s intentions.
Lisa first fell in love with acting as a youngster when she was praised for her performance in a grade school talent show. Undeterred by her sister’s critical assessment that “Everyone in it kind of sucked,” the young ingénue went on to enroll in a 12-week acting program during her teens, then later took part in a college stage productions. In the aftermath of juggling school, work, boyfriend dramas and taking a roommate’s advice to have a Plan B (which ultimately led her to the local cosmetology school), Lisa eventually made her way to sunny California. Interestingly Thomas waits until three quarters of the way through the book before Lisa actually voices aloud “I would love to make a career out of acting”. It seems a telling moment, which feeds into the premise that life is often more about the journey, rather than the final destination. The book’s first person narrative often lends itself to Lisa’s own self ponderings, which help bring depth to the character.
Lisa’s good friend Mike provides the voice of reason throughout this work, presenting a nice juxtaposition to her drama queen tendencies. Complaints from Lisa about how tough life is are often met with Mike’s steadfast response of “You’re just making excuses.” The challenging words are often enough to snap Lisa back into the game. One thought provoking conversation raises the valid question of whether or not things are important to us just because we spend time on them, or because they are something we really want to do, regardless of the time, effort, or stress involved, or whether or not we are being paid. Pointedly it is a question that arises shortly before an unforeseen incident puts Lisa’s goals on temporary hold.
Much of the dialogue is honest and direct, often with a creative and quirky edge. On more than one occasion, Lisa describes a negative happening as “the final peanut on the shit sundae.” These humorous touches help keep the story light-hearted, as in the case of Lisa’s return to her waitressing job after a necessary surgical procedure. The commentary here revolves around the hazards of nosebleeds in restaurants and a “who’s bad” reference to pop stars with overdone rhinoplasty.
It seems a bit implausible that upon her arrival in California, Lisa quickly lands both background work on a popular sitcom, and a hot date. Though soon subsequent opportunities confirm the general tinsel town consensus that success in Hollywood goes hand in hand with “who you know.” Ultimately as she considers a side gig at a popular electronics store, to help pay the bills, Lisa arms herself with new brunette-in-a-bottle headshots (because blonde & blue-eyed isn’t selling in the industry), determined to face whatever life has to offer, without regretting the pursuit of her dreams.
Thomas’ writing offers a fun and engaging read for anyone tempted by the Hollywood limelight. While the perspective is personal, in a more general sense the narrative speaks to the realities of hard work, dedication, the importance of positive reinforcement from family and friends, overcoming obstacles, and following your bliss. Undoubtedly there are lessons to be learned here, no matter your chosen life’s path, and value far beyond the desire to reach the often-elusive heights of Hollywood stardom. A must have for anyone who wants to work in the entertainment industry and have the courage to pursue that dream.