Okay, so in the interests of full disclosure, I should start by saying that I’ve been a Rob Lowe fan for some time now. I wasn’t so keen during the 80’s to mid 90’s – he was a bit too perfect looking and I found his characters just that little bit smarmy – but from The West Wing onwards he became the epitome of the Hollywood heart-throb in my eyes. Of course, this is a terribly shallow way to view someone who is, above all, just another human being. However, as fans, this is all we have to go off; the characters that these actors play and the snippets of their personalities that we get during interviews and press releases. I completely appreciate that I couldn’t possibly know what Rob Lowe is actually like and nor should I, unless I were among his inner circle of friends. Actors and actresses are entitled to private lives as much as they are able and that is exactly how it should be. That being said, fans will always wonder what these celebrities are like “in real life” and these autobiographies, apparently (but not always) written by the stars themselves, provide us with a glimpse into the personal lives of those we adore from afar. I loved Stories I Only Tell My Friends, where Lowe described his childhood in light of his parents divorce and his subsequent relocation from Ohio to Malibu, his ascendance into fame and fortune following his role in The Outsiders and how he almost threw his career away as a result of his alcoholism. When I heard that he was writing another book called Love Life, I pre-ordered it as soon as I was able and looked forward to gaining further insight into this extremely handsome man.
Released on 25th April 2014, I read the book in one sitting. I loved it. I fully expected to. Had Segnalibro.co.uk existed then, I would have written a review and posted it. However, as I didn’t, I tweeted my enjoyment of the book and left it at that, feeling like I knew Rob Lowe just a little better than I did before. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when Rob Lowe announced that he had been sober now for 25 years, quite an achievement by anyone’s standards. Then www.slate.com published a particularly poignant excerpt from Love Life, where Lowe is preparing to take his son to college. As I read this excerpt, I was reminded of the myriad emotions I felt when I read this book and decided to read it again in its entirety so I could review it.
Before I read this book the first time round, prior to seeing any reviews, I expected to read about Rob Lowe’s love life; I thought that perhaps it was an exposé on those wild years of his life. However, what I found in actuality was a reflective look on his life so far, a low-down on the acting profession, his experience as a husband and father and a number of sometimes funny, sometimes poignant stories that he feels will give the reader some understanding of who Rob Lowe is. His outlook is positive yet realistic and he uses his wealth of experience to unpack the celebrity lifestyle.
The book has a similar feel to Stories I Only Tell My Friends, in that it doesn’t quite run in chronological order and it reads like Lowe has literally written down his train of thought, but with extraordinary eloquence. Whereas in the first book, Lowe gave us details of his upbringing and his first acting experiences, in this book Lowe is keen to draw on his years of acting experience to give us tips of the trade, so to speak, and also his thoughts on those who mean the most to him; his wife Sheryl and his boys, Matthew and Johnowen. He tells us of his acting successes and flops, what a day in the life of an actor actually entails rather than the imagined “easy life” the general public probably imagine and he describes his own approach to the “entertainment business”. He also describes how he has juggled his professional life with his personal life, in particular, his hands-on approach to bringing up his two boys.
I wonder if Lowe is having a bit of a mid-life crisis, as he re-evaluates his life and career, his personal relationships, his political views. Yet, he is quite philosophical about success and enjoys the process of completing a project as much as the outcome. That is not to say that he isn’t competitive; he really does give his all to everything he attempts and his determination to succeed is quite something to behold; his approach to his alcohol addiction proves this unequivocally. He is no longer the “people pleaser” that he once considered himself to be earlier in his career, now choosing his projects out of his own passion for them, not because others wish for him to take a particular path. He mentions that Rashida Jones (his Parks and Recreation co-star) describes him as a “benevolent narcissist” and it seems quite an appropriate description given his admissions throughout his two books.
I have a number of personal favourite stories in this book. Firstly, I found myself giggling uncontrollably as Lowe describes an overnight school trip with his son in the manatee viewing enclosure at Seaworld. I loved the idea of Lowe waking up to this potentially nutty “soccer-mom” staring at him maniacally as she suggested that perhaps they had some kind of romantic history that he could not remember. Not that the situation itself would be funny, but the way Lowe tells it left me highly amused. All in a days work for a superstar dad! I also found the excerpted chapter from Slate.com’s article a beautifully poignant chapter. Lowe rationally describes his irrational emotional state at the thought of his eldest son leaving for college. He eases his son’s fears whilst trying to put on a brave face for his wife, whilst hiding in a corner or behind newspapers and sunglasses whilst he cries like a baby. However, the most poignant story in this book for me was the story of “Buck”, Lowe’s fellow rehab patient. I wept like a baby myself when I read this chapter the first time. I managed to compose myself a little better this time but nonetheless, it almost feels like you are intruding into the most intimate, hidden details of a person’s life. I sincerely hope that whoever this person is has found some kind of inner peace.
In terms of Lowe’s highs and lows as an actor, he seems to be at ease with the fact that not everything has worked out but at least he gave things a go and took risks that perhaps other actors/producers may not have taken. He describes all the elements involved in making a movie/tv show and gives us information on all the ways that a production can go wrong. He talks from experience and it feels like he wants to advise those in the business or thinking about going into the business that whilst it is wonderful when it all goes right, there are a lot of things that will probably go wrong in the often arduous process. However, there is no doubt that Lowe loves his job. He takes his career very seriously and he gives many examples of the good and the bad, the advantages the business gives you and the disadvantages. He also describes the people who have helped him (and hindered him) along the way.
There are a couple of stories in here that I must admit, I do wonder if there has been some embellishment going on to make it sound much more of an experience that perhaps it was, if it happened at all. However, as I am unlikely to ever know one way or another, and as Lowe tells his tales so convincingly, I am inclined to leave that to someone else to investigate.
Lowe has spent a large part of his life mixing with the glitterati, right back to when he used to play with Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen in their family pool, while Martin Sheen looked on. However, he doesn’t name-drop for the sake of it. Every chapter in both of the books he has written appear to be honest accounts of situations with people who happen to be very well-known. He speaks of his awe in meeting Warren Beatty and his incredulity at his first visit to the Playboy Mansion. He describes himself in a way that if we were to be faced with these situations, our reactions would be exactly like his. He is very self-deprecating a lot of the time in these two books and he plays down any sense of him being the massive star that he is. There is no sense at all that he is bragging about who he knows or where he has been, more that he is an extremely lucky guy who has worked hard to get to where he is.
If I could make any kind of criticism of these two books, it would be that there are not many stories of the really successful projects that he has been a part of. I’d have liked to have heard more about his time on Brothers and Sisters, Parks and Recreation and of course, the iconic The West Wing. We do get some insight into his time of the The West Wing, more so in the first book, but as a massive fan, I would have loved to have heard some more little known facts.
In writing this review, I am well aware that I am waxing lyrical about a guy who until not so long ago graced the screen saver of my iPhone, so you may think that this is a particularly indulgent review where I was unlikely really to have anything bad to say anyway. I concede on the indulgent part, but if I had anything bad to say, I would undoubtedly say it. However, this book is a really lovely, well written book. Lowe writes in a particularly sophisticated style and articulates his stories beautifully. I would read Stories I Tell My Friends first otherwise you may miss a bit of context to some of the stories in Love Life, but it really is an insight into the life of someone who has seen the good side and the bad of being a Hollywood superstar. This book has a slight feel of a self-help book, telling his readership to “love life”, enjoy what comes your way and if you want something, you can achieve it if you work hard enough. Lowe knows his flaws and is confident enough to admit them and work at them. He is a loving husband and doting father who, whilst sad that his son’s are moving on to a more independent chapter of his life, is looking forward to the next chapter of his, spending time with the wife that he loves and reveres (his description of his relationship with his wife towards the end of the book is particularly moving). I hope that there is another book on the horizon because I have really enjoyed these two books immensely. Thanks for indulging me by reading this review!