The Princess Bride is my all-time favourite book. It’s the book I turn to time and time again when I need a pick-me-up or when nothing else can stir me from a self-pitying stupor. Within 20 pages, I’m guaranteed to be grinning like a loon and laughing out loud, content with the world. The Rob Reiner directed film has a similarly powerful effect on me, and has become a cult favourite in the years following its less than successful release. Fans hold quote-along screenings, the cast and crew continue to attend Q&A sessions and, if you’re especially nice, Mandy Patinkin will whisper the immortal words of Inigo Montoya into your ear. With a cult fanbase that grows with each generation, it’s no surprise that a book documenting the making of the film would earn a release, and it’s certainly an added surprise to have said book written (with help) by the Dread Pirate Roberts himself, Cary Elwes.
Elwes is a man who embodies a very retro kind of charm. Comparisons to the golden age of movie stars such as Douglas Fairbanks have followed him throughout his career and it’s easy to see why in As You Wish. Every line invites you to hear his debonair voice in your mind, overloaded with the kind of effortless charisma that harkens back to a different time. Elwes is consistently polite, self-deprecating and in awe of his fellow actors and crew members, and his magnetism is enough to allow the reader to forgive the sheer volume of name dropping he does. There’s never a bad word to be said about anyone on set, and every anecdote is shared with warmth and kindness. The general impression given throughout As You Wish is that not only is Elwes extremely grateful to have been part of The Princess Bride, he also genuinely enjoyed the experience.
While reading the book, I was frequently reminded of another memoir of sorts I recently enjoyed, Yes Please by Amy Poehler. Both books aren’t excellent in terms of quality – indeed, they’re merely good when examined objectively – yet are elevated to a new level based on the charm and warmth of their writers. It’s good to read about good people who are grateful for their lot in life. Neither books dwell on the darker moments and there isn’t a smidgeon of snark to be found, and they’re better reads because of that. They carry the book when its content lets it down.
And unfortunately, As You Wish is let down by its content. I love The Princess Bride and there is undeniable pleasure to be found in the tidbits of on-set shenanigans as well as memories of beloved actors such as Andre the Giant and Mandy Patinkin. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing from the cast and crew themselves (their contributions are scattered throughout, which shows the level of padding in an already slim read, if nothing else). All of this is true, and yet it only serves to remind me of how unnecessary this book is. The shoot of The Princess Bride was not a historically significant one or even a noteworthy train-wreck (for a book that excels in capturing such a shoot, read Greg Sestero’s The Disaster Artist). As such, one can’t help but question why such a book exists in the first place. Of course, that can be answered with one simple and extremely profitable word.
Right now, nostalgia is arguably the best way to make money in the entertainment industry. There’s a reason Disney made Maleficent and are making a live-action film of their take on Beauty and the Beast, not to mention just how much money they spent on buying the Star Wars and Marvel franchises. Buzzfeed have made a fortune from lists of those things you liked in the nineties. People will always enjoy reliving parts of their childhood, and even as we continue to discuss whether the deification of nostalgia is ultimately toxic, we rush to consume such comforts. I can’t deny that I’ve done so myself, and even while questioning the point of As You Wish, I found myself taken by its charm and quietly quoting the oft-shared lines that make up a million memes. Thousands of people have turned out for Elwes’s book tour and made As You Wish a best-seller, so it’s safe to say that once again our childhoods are paying out.
While, objectively speaking, As You Wish is a standard memoir with more charm than substance, it would be hard to deny that it succeeded in its prime objective – it made me happy, I reminisced about a film I love from my youth and I immediately started looking up clips on YouTube. I’m not sure Elwes or the publishers could have asked for more.