“Because you’re still asking me that question.”
I love Joss Whedon. Good thing, because so does Amy Pascale, the author of the new Whedon biography.
This book is a love letter, written by a fan for fans. It takes us through his career to date, from his early years writing for Roseanne, through his shows, his comics, and his movies.
To be fair, Pascale did her homework. The bibliography at the end of the book is impressive as is the list of people whom she interviewed. What seems odd, however, is that when one looks through the people interviewed, all of them are well-known members of the Whedonverse.
The book is filled with quotes about how wonderful Whedon is, what a talented writer he is, what an inclusive director he is. All of which, I am sure, the people interviewed believe. He is, after all, their friend and, occasionally, their boss. After a while, however, I got the sense that those who were interviewed were chosen because either Pascale or Whedon knew that what they would say would be positive.
I find it impossible to believe that everyone in Hollywood thinks Whedon is the second coming. Yet, nowhere is there any evidence of that. The cynic in me wonders if Whedon’s power is now so great that people who may not be as big a fan as the rest of us were too concerned about future employment prospects to speak against him.
For example, we get tantalizing hints that life on the Buffy soundstage was anything but joyful. When discussing Firefly, everyone (including Whedon) talks about how quickly that cast gelled, how well they all got along, and how inclusive Nathan Fillion (as number one on the call sheet) was. It is easy, therefore, to extrapolate that this was not what Whedon had experienced on his two earlier shows. In fact, several broad hints are dropped that Sarah Michelle Gellar was a right pain to have around and that she felt she was greatly unappreciated for her part in Buffy’s success.
Broad hints are all we get, however. Pascale either was not able to get anyone to go on the record about what really happened or she chose not to include it. Either way, it is frustrating to read only the good. Biography should give us a more rounded picture of who this person we are reading about is.
The unfortunate result of all this positivity is that Whedon the man becomes uninteresting. It is a person’s flaws and quirks that make him compelling. It is seeing a person fail and rise above that creates drama. Whedon is more than a sum of his works; we never see who that person is.
Pascale does a good job taking us through Whedon’s life and career. She does not, however, try to put this career into the context of the man himself. We read that he writes strong female characters because of the love he had for his mother. If you’ve listened to any of his DVD commentaries, you already know this. We read that he came to his love of Shakespeare through his father. Again, Whedon has told us all this before.
Whedon’s life outside of his role as a writer and director are all but glossed over. Pascale provides long plot descriptions of movies most of us have seen (I’m looking at you, Toy Story), yet only mentions in passing the birth of Whedon’s children. Kai, Whedon’s wife, is portrayed simply as the woman who supports her husband — she rebuilt their house so that he could film Much Ado there. The only personal thing that either Whedon reveals about the other is that they slept together on their first date. Again, more context would have been interesting. Was this out of character for them? What is it about the other that is so compelling they instantly became intimate and have remained together all these years?
Throughout the book, the section I found most interesting was a long discussion of the Bronze, an internet board that was very active during Buffy’s run. Pascale talks about the early days of the internet and how this board was one of the first of its kind. Not only was the show discussed in great detail, but many of those who posted became friendly. Whedon, the writers, and the cast embraced this new way of connecting with the show’s fans. All of them posted from time to time and all of them read the posts frequently.
The section would have been stronger, however, with some deeper context. Why did Whedon so eagerly embrace the Bronze? Was he so visionary that he knew this was how all shows would be discussed in the future or was he so insecure that he needed to know that he was loved by the fans? Pascale never attempts any analysis at all.
Finally, this is a book that collects information about Whedon and puts it all together in one volume. It is well researched and well written. If you are a fan, as I am, it is a fun foray through shows and movies the man has made. If you are not already a fan, this will not change your mind.
ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.