At the very end of Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick’s witty and frank memoir, she includes a “reading group guide,” a tongue-in-cheek parody of the food-for-thought discussion guidelines included at the end of certain literary fiction. They’re all pretty absurd, but one in particular nicely captures the general tone. “6. The book opens with the author’s mother wishing for a few stories in which Anna comes across as thoughtful and/or generous. Did Anna’s mother get her wish? Was there a single story where Anna didn’t seem eminently punchable?” That sense of self-deprecation to a fault permeates the entire book; it would be the entire text in its purest essence—were the follow-up question, “Is Anna a shady, basic bitch, or the shadiest, basic-est bitch?” not an equally exemplary sentence.
Kendrick is the type of actor for whom the phrases “relatable” and “endearing” seem de rigueur at this point, which is really just a way of quickly establishing that she’s good at coming across like a normal human you might actually want to interact with in a social setting, as opposed to an overcompensating actor type that’s been coached to stay relentlessly on message. In late night TV appearances and goofy online videos, she’s consistently funny and quick-tongued, able to keep up with comedians and still maintain an air of approachable ordinariness. She’s very aware of how she comes across—Kendrick continually acknowledges the gap between how others see her and how she views herself—and has tried to put that self-awareness to good use in delivering her personal story honestly and humorously, while still breezing through any potentially painful memories with a quick joke and an “Anyways…” It’s a defense mechanism, as she herself admits, but it’s a winning one, both as a psychological tactic for keeping herself sane and a means of establishing a distinct comic voice which, at its best, approaches the breezily blunt truth of similar “mock yourself first and best before others get there” tactics from autobiographical humorists like Carrie Fisher.
Without explicitly saying so, Kendrick is continually wondering if she’s emotionally opening herself up effectively, mostly through good-natured parentheticals that play up her lack of egoism and sense of humor even as they function to cover her bases and prevent criticism. At one point, she acknowledges that an out-of-context excerpt could make her sound especially bad; at another, she scolds her mom for reading a chapter about losing her virginity (“If you’re seeing this, it’s your own fault!”). But these moments of postmodern fourth-wall-breaking end up being the most relatable parts of the whole book. The ways in which we all adjust our personalities on social media or in different settings are simply given a high-profile reworking by Kendrick, as she reveals the weird feeling of giving interviews about personal matters with people who aren’t her friends, to readers she’s never met. And rather than dispensing nuggets of wisdom about the “realities” of photo shoots or trying to remain detached as a means of retaining some “authentic” self, she simply dives in and reacts spontaneously and understandably to these larger-than-life situations.
Never is this more apparent than when she outlines why she abandoned efforts to be “nice” in her work. Pointing out the gendered double standard, she offers up the unpleasant but likely reality that “‘nice’ often means she did what we told her to, no questions asked… in the professional realm, the opposite of ‘nice’ is not ‘mean’; the opposite of ‘nice’ is ‘difficult.’” Being capable of putting forth a public face that isn’t arrogant or actively obnoxious isn’t the same thing as being willing to put up with crap, and though she doesn’t often linger on it, the small moments where she reveals a sharp tenacity and irritation with the odd fool or asshole make her come alive even more than the sections where she’s confessing yet another embarrassing incident. (Not that the embarrassing incidents aren’t charming: They’re incredibly endearing, and you get the sense she could have easily coasted through the whole book with nothing but a series of funny vignettes about awkward excerpts from her life.) What pushes the book into really strong territory is how she can let small details sneak in that convey a wider range of emotion; how she can be hapless and the underdog and yet still occasionally angry or mean or vindictive. It rings true, and the book is all the better for it.
The overwhelming majority of the book is the tale of an unusual life and oddball persona rising to fame, and it’s a damn entertaining one. Most of her history is told chronologically, with the occasional flash-forward or dry interjection (and a lot of commenting on her own stories as they unfold, in a tone both brash and apologetic). But when she reaches her arrival in L.A., Kendrick jumps gears, alternating between relationship woes and the bizarre nature of first encounters with fame. The stories are so fun and propulsive that you almost miss the fact she neatly sidesteps detailing the career steps that got her in the door to Twilight and other auditions in the first place. Up In The Air anecdotes begin at the end of filming, not prior to it. That decision may be frustrating to some, but it helps keep the book far away from the realm of “how to make it in Hollywood” narratives. Scrappy Little Nobody makes light of things both flighty and serious; it’s committed to fun above all else, and demonstrates why Kendrick, in her own voice, is a somebody worth reading.