by Kayna Stout
Drew Barrymore’s likability and competence as an actor commenced with her childhood debut in Steven Spielberg‘s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Noted for her childlike bright eyes and broad smile, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and an expanding fan base, the “Barrystas.” Her father is the preeminent actor John Barrymore. Films include the memorable and heartwarming The Wedding Singer, the cult movie Donnie Darko, the comedy Going the Distance, and the romantic Blended. In her 1990 autobiography, Little Girl Lost she describes an adolescence frought with drug and alcohol abuse. As a child, she was the family breadwinner. The recent Wildflower, casts a broader net over her life, focusing more on her immediate family, and the stability missing in her youth that she’s ardently trying to recapture.
As a young girl, she observed how the Spielbergs interacted with their children, feeling safe and secure there. Speilberg took her under his wing during and after the movie ET when she was just six years old. He has been a stabilizing thread throughout her life to this day. Obviously, he became a father figure to her. Her story reinforces the Church’s belief that children need a mother and a father in their lives.
It became an all-consuming goal of Barrymore’s to provide her children with a traditional family of mother and father, married and committed to the family above all else. Despite the dysfunction in her own life growing up, she seems to be getting it right with her own two daughters, Olive and Frankie, still only three and 18 months when she wrote the book. I got the impression she was writing this book to them. She tells stories she’s not proud of, but means them to be cautionary tales to her daughters of what not to do. Two of the chapters are letters she writes to each of her daughters telling them how much they mean to her and how very much she loves them. It’s endearing to witness this sweetness for her daughters. Overall, it was inspiring to see her determination to overcome a dynsfuntional background.
Her father was John Barrymore’s only son. He separated from Drew’s mother when she was still pregnant. She never lived with her father, John Drew Barrymore. “I never even had dinner with both of my parents,” she discloses in the new autobiography. “My mother and father were both incapable of being parents.” Unlike Little Girl Lost, the theme of Wildflower is how one works hard at turning the tide of a troubled past into a family dynamic without deleterious patterns of the past. “The truth is they gave me a great blueprint through their behavior of what not to do with my own kids. For starters, I will have so many thousands of dinners with my kids.”
Barrymore peels back the onion of stability as an idea, dissecting the concept so intricately that the lack of security in her own life is frighteningly obvious. Her dedication is simultaneously inspiring, and at times obsequious with endless exclamation points: “…they grow up and realize that this is the better way!” and “A stable, loving family is something that should absolutely, fundamentally never be taken for granted!” The zeal continues, “I am much luckier to now have the chance to create my own deck!” And, “I am a not-to-be-messed-with lion! I am a mother!”
Creating one’s own deck is the dominant metaphor of the autobiography; she disdains those who take the common for granted. In fact, the beauty of the family is anything but common. While the term, stability is associated with uneventful steadiness or the mundane, to her it provides life’s ultimate satisfactions. She’s almost giddy with chapters, “Domestic Bliss,” and “In-Law Jackpot.” Such titles may sound a bit thick even to the most committed church members.
To use Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s concept “flow” or the psychology of optimal experience, Barrymore is clearly in a flow state where family life betters the self, and common activities are so engrossing it makes life stand still. Simple matters of the family bolster the self; they form her current life theme.
Csíkszentmihályi argues that adversity early in life can enhance the ability to have positive flow experiences in adulthood. Barrymore reflects on these rough times in Wildflower:
“Everything in his (her father) life was temporary. For as long as I knew him, or barely knew him, he was always coming from somewhere and going somewhere else. My father never had an apartment. No address to send a letter.
No phone to call him if the mood struck. He didn’t wear shoes! He would roam Topanga Canyon in the 70’s and 80’s and just show up at my mom’s duplex with David Carradine and talk some crazy nonsense, usually wreak havoc on the joint, and then take off again.”
Despite this experience, Barrymore concentrates on the present, especially her children, Olive Barrymore Kopelman, Frankie Barrymore Kopelman. While Hollywood biographies dwell on the sensational past, Barrymore’s book is a study in breaking with the unsavory past and its debilitating patterns. This is not sociology, and the writing is trite at times. Nevertheless, statements about her children such as: “They will sleep together and go to school and have a bedtime, and life will be so stable and consistent that they will complain until I am lucky that I got dealt some cards that showed me what it’s like to not have a family,” impact the reader on the emotional level regardless of literary skill.
She’s out to prove that people can change certain aspects of their lives. That’s not to say that she’s lost her free spirit as demonstrated by her deep affinity for astrology and flashing David Letterman on live television. Such matters, however, are ancillary to the larger issue of achieving and savoring stability. The book is both an invitation to relish family life and a warning to not take the valuable aspects for granted.