Reading Gabourey Sidibe’s memoir often feels like scrolling through a 2 a.m. text from a friend. It’s up to each reader to decide whether that’s an endearing or ultimately frustrating experience. Fans of Sidibe will already be familiar with her 140 character witticisms (she even offers some unpublished tweets in a chapter musing on the dangers of publishing your thoughts on Twitter), and her talent to entertain with a funny aside is evident on every page. Celebrity memoirs often suffer from an obvious build-up to what they know their fans came for—the backstage drama from their biggest project, the relationship that dominated headlines for months, or, in Sidibe’s case, the role that transformed her from an anonymous twentysomething to an Academy Award-nominated actress. The story of how she became Precious—which involves enough serendipity to deserve its own Lifetime movie—isn’t actually told for almost 200 pages. Sidibe doesn’t seem nearly as interested in her sudden rise to stardom as she is in the less public pitfalls of fame. Her chapter on navigating the world of premieres without the help of a stylist (or the money to accessorize with Gucci or Prada) in the early days of her career feels genuine and accessible in a way tales of celebrity anxiety often don’t.
Having an interesting life is not a prerequisite to becoming a talented actor, and many actors who write a book struggle to gain interest and insight for their memoirs. Sidibe, however, has so much material from her childhood and adolescence that she might have been able to sell a memoir before she landed her first movie role. From her complicated family life (her father got her mother to invite his second wife into their home without realizing exactly who his “cousin” was) to her job working on a phone sex line, the book rarely suffers from a lack of momentum. The chapters do often feel disjointed, with more than one intriguing setup followed by an “I’ll explain that later” aside. She does eventually come back to the idea, but by then she’s taken you through less compelling stories.
Sidibe is truly funny, and it’s apparent throughout This Is Just My Face that she enjoyed writing the memoir and all the opportunities it gave her to coin new hashtags (#RudeAssBaby is bound to catch on). But her best writing comes when her humor is mixed with a kind of earnest honesty that produces a “celebs, they’re just like us vibe” that, for once, doesn’t ring false. In the book’s final chapter, she describes her teenage writing project—filling notebook after notebook with ’N Sync fan fiction. What could have been a celebrity author checking off an “embarrassing relatable box” (see, says the actress, I wasn’t always cool and poised, I was a dork just like you!) becomes much more as Sidibe describes how pouring out the adventures of J.T. and friends was a stand-in for therapy. “If I had a bad day, I wrote myself a better day,” she explains. Her fan fiction days have paid off; This Is Just My Face doesn’t capture just Sidibe that celebrity, but Sidibe the storyteller.