Cynical wit and wisdom
from Stiller and Garofalo
By Lauren Hejna-Doan
A marriage of bizarre wit and cerebral cynicism explodes in Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo's new self-help parody Feel This Book: An Essential Guide to Self-Empowerment, Spiritual Supremacy, and Sexual Satisfaction.
Presenting he-said and she-said chapters, Stiller and Garofalo offer mind-bending observations and advice about everything from how to improve your self-esteem with Faster-mation© affirmations to the hidden conspiracy of Deepak Chopra and Tupac Shakur.
From the phony table of contents citing 37 chapters that sound like self-help infomercial titles, Stiller and Garofalo unroll their satiric style with a tone that rattles the brain.
Feel This Book begins with a slow foreword and an instant disclaimer from Stiller. "I do not presume to be an expert. ... I am not a father. ... nor do I have my own sitcom."
As for Garofalo's credentials? "It wasn't my choice," she explains. "I've been channeling a self-help guru for the last fiscal year." Further reading suggests that this guru that could have been the result of a traumatic yet unsolicited drug experience.
Enlightening is the tale told by Stiller about the little-known courtship he and Garofalo had a little over 10 years ago. They meet, Janeane is already sloshed, and the rest is history, until an ill-fated murder mystery dinner theatre outing drives their tortured relationship into the ground.
As tongue-in-cheek as both of these gifted comedians are, it is difficult to distinguish what is real and what is contrived, unless it is so bizarre -- as in Stiller's chapters (except for his dating experience with Janeane) -- that what is written can only be explained as creative non-fiction.
Stiller's easy tone and detailed writing style is refreshing, and his chapters unfurl with an intriguing Discovery Zone zest.
"Faster-Mations©," a chapter that begins with a directive to the reader to "close the book," flowers into a study about the way in which Americans respond to suggestion and closes with a clever comparison between the movie "The Great Santini," basketball, and the great negative power in us all.
In response to the great negative power, Stiller offers a fast-paced solution by introducing Faster-mations©, which are psuedo-affirmation statements that appear in intervals throughout the book. Each self-esteem building Faster-mation© is geared toward use during the time we spend with automatic teller machines, while urinating, and even while vomiting.
Garofalo writes from a much more cerebral platform, dropping gratuitous references as an obligation to enlighten her readers. With a self-confident yet biting sarcasm, she reminds her readers that she is indeed a mental superior trying to fulfill her duty to share her intelligence. For this reason, she is both qualified to write this book and worthy of worship and praise.
But Garofalo does not come across as self-indulgent. Rather, her voice is consistent with what most Garofalo fans have come to love-straightforward, intelligent truths presented in a concise and somewhat bitter but funny manner. She is the mentor who insists that her students know something about everything and won't water down the lesson or pad the blow.
Garofalo pokes fun at relationships with embarrassing accuracy in her chapter "How to Build a Relationship on Next to Nothing." Here she insists that "it is truly inspirational to see the ladies forgive a multitude of unreturned phone calls and severed plans."
Illustrating a woman's keen ability to pine over collapsing love affairs that never really existed, Garofalo plays with the humor and the seriousness of desperation. And in the end, she convinces those of us who have played this game that we are not alone and that we should dwell in this horror as often as possible.
As an added bonus, Garofalo and Stiller pepper their chapters with colorful footnotes that serve as extra bits of information equivalent to well timed coffee-shop conversation. This is a real treat and a unique peek into the co-authors' afterthoughts.
From the first chapter to the last acknowledgments, inspirations, and even the glossary, Stiller and Garofalo orchestrate a bizarre, intriguing, and hilarious journey into their worlds, and by the last page, there is no doubt that you do "Feel This Book!"
Spend a few days with this one. In the words of Janeane Garofalo, "Just as swallowing an entire jug of elderberry wine would make you sick and nauseous, yet a few sips with dinner brings a warm happy glow, so, too, it is with this book."
Look for more Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo in "Mystery Men".
The favorite caustic couple portray not-so-super heroes blessed and cursed with odd talents rather than superpowers that help them save their city's true superhero, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear).
With a dynamic movie set of graphic comic-book proportions and with the direction of Kinka Usher of "Yo quiero Taco Bell" fame, this one promises to be a most extraordinary movie experience.