I do not read a lot of celebrity memoir, but I wanted to read As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From The Making of The Princess Bride for several reasons.
Firstly, I love the film and have recently rediscovered it through the eyes of my seven-year old twins, who also love it. I am prone to announcing that things are ‘inconceivable!’ and own a Dread Pirate Roberts t-shirt. I am also one of those irritating people who recites the lines along with the actors, so it is safe to say I am a fan.
Secondly, Cary Elwes is at the centre of my best celebrity story. You see, about 20 years or so ago, I made a pizza for Cary Elwes and I haven’t stopped talking about it since.
Back in the ‘90s, when I lived in Dublin, I worked in the first Domino’s Pizza in Ireland and one evening Cary Elwes rang and asked for a 12” Vegetarian Pizza to be delivered to the Shelbourne Hotel. When he gave his name, I spluttered, ‘What? THE Cary Elwes?’ and he laughed and said ‘The very one’. Obviously I should have taken his order and said ‘as you wish, Cary’ but the moment was gone and I spent the rest of the evening boring the delivery driver rigid with questions about what happened when the pizza was delivered.
So, I went into As You Wish with high hopes and you know what? It’s fine. If you’re a fan – like me – you will enjoy this trip behind the scenes of the making of The Princess Bride, but if you’re not, I don’t think there will be a lot to hold your attention.
Released in 1987, The Princess Bride didn’t make too much of a cinematic splash thanks to a confused marketing campaign and the difficulty in placing the film in any one genre. It found its audience thanks to home video and as director Rob Reiner’s star ascended, so too did the cult reputation of The Princess Bride. Adapted from his own novel by legendary screenwriter William Goldman, who died just this week, The Princess Bride is a tongue-in-cheek swashbuckling romance with some of the most quotable lines in cinematic history.
The Princess Bride was Elwes’ biggest role to date at the time of filming and his portrayal of the male lead, Westley, made him a star. He is under no illusion that this was, and will most probably remain, the highlight of his career and the film for which he is best known and he tells the story of the production process with enthusiasm and affection, for both his colleagues and for the film.
The book does not really focus on the minutiae of the filmmaking process, but there are some interesting insights into how some of the biggest scenes in the movie were made, from the Rodents of Unusual Size to the Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times.
Elwes focuses more on relationships and is keen to highlight the camaraderie and the friendship that underlined the Princess Bride set. Rob Reiner in particular comes across as an avuncular, supportive presence, holding the crew together in a mutual enthusiasm for the project.
Elwes is clearly enthusiastic about the experience and is obviously very proud of his involvement in a film that means so much to so many people and he comes across as a very nice man. However, that is one of the reasons why this memoir is good but not great.
He doesn’t have a bad word to say about anyone. Everybody is wonderful and talented and he is in awe of them all. Whenever a new character is introduced, we are given a mini IMDB run down of their greatest hits. Robin Wright is constantly referred to as beautiful, stunning, and breath taking – undoubtedly, she is, but it does get a little boring to read that repeatedly. There seems to be a little spark of contention with Mandy Patinkin – who comes across as prickly and competitive – but Elwes glosses over any hint of animosity. It may well be the case that the filming of The Princess Bride was the smoothest shoot in cinematic history, but that doesn’t make for a page-turning memoir.
The narrative is at times punctuated by quotes from Elwes’ co-stars such as Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal and Chris Sarandon and writer William Goldman and these serve to enlighten a narrative, which I have to admit, I occasionally skim read.
Cary Elwes was ostensibly, the star of The Princess Bride, but the star of this book is undoubtedly the wonderful Andre the Giant and the recollections of his wit, his ability to deal with the pain he was in and his unending ability to eat and drink to excess and some of the most entertaining in the book.
You will also be delighted to learn that when Andre the Giant was a boy, he used to get lifts to school from Samuel Beckett. Yes, that Samuel Beckett. Inconceivable!
Overall, I enjoyed As You Wish as a light, diverting read. I think however, that it is one for real fans of the film; there isn’t really enough meat for the general reader to get their teeth into. A bit like that vegetarian pizza I once made…
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!