Review: Joss Whedon: The Biography

Joss Whedon: The Biography
Joss Whedon: The Biography by Amy Pascale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a Joss Whedon fan. I think Firefly is one of the best shows ever aired and The Cabin in the Woods a classic deconstruction of the horror genre. I think his turns of phrase are incredibly clever and full of the pop culture references I love. So yeah, I’m a fan. Not sure you’d pick this book up if you weren’t. Even more so, I’m not sure this book would convince you to be if you weren’t already. And I think that’s the biggest problem with Amy Pascale’s book – she’s also a fan, a big one, and this book comes across like a fan’s take on examining the catalog of her hero.

Which, to be fair, she does quite well.

There’s little in the way of really in depth digging here. Yes, she has access and makes full use of her ability to get an interview but for the most part, what she’s saying never gets too far below the surface. We certainly get in-depth, blow by blow looks at all of Whedon’s productions. We know the main players and get their stories, and while all that is interesting, it doesn’t seem very fulfilling.

The first chapter or two, which chronicle Whedon’s childhood and formative years are instructive, but are over much too quickly. We certainly get call backs throughout the rest of the book, reminding us the reason Joss is the way he is has to do with the influence of his mother – but it would have been far more instructive to actually see that influence played out during his younger days. Instead, we get minute details and time lines of the shows he brought to air, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Angel to Dollhouse. Pascale, as well, lets into the nitty gritty of the negotiations and broken promises behind several of Whedon’s landmark films, including The Avengers, the 3rd highest grossing film of all time.

With the chronology of his work, we also get, from time to time, some negatives about Whedon, but these are glossed over, forgiven as one forgives a friend who’s had a momentary indiscretion, a bad day. And they are quickly shored up with stories of what an amazing, caring, great guy he really is. As a fan, I want to believe that. The quotes from friends and colleagues seem to attest to that, but at the same time, everything just rings slightly off center.

There are a couple of moments where data isn’t exactly correct or where information is shoehorned in at the last minute because it’s important and didn’t make it in when the topic was originally discussed (most often when it comes to referencing Whedon’s early life). Again, it would have been nice if we had been able to get these scenes or this information ahead of time but it doesn’t distract too much.

Ultimately, the biography is serviceable. Some of Whedon has to say about writing and storytelling is pure gold and the book would be worth it alone for the reprint of the email from Tom Hiddleston to Whedon upon reading the first draft of The Avengers script. Pascale, though,  feels like a part-time journalist who doesn’t quite have the chops to write something of this length and depth so what we end up with is a hymn that preaches to the converted and, ideally, whets the appetite of those not already in the fold to at least seek out the work of the man. If that happens, then those people will come back to this biography and appreciate it that much more. But if you just pick it up because he’s the guy behind The Avengers, you might be disappointed.

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