THE TAGLINE for Patton Oswalt's second memoir, Silver Screen Fiend, may be merely "Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film." But, like his first book (2011's Zombie Spaceship Wasteland), this slim, entertaining volume runs much deeper.
While Oswalt's descriptions of the hundreds of movies he watched over four years in the late '90s are fantastic—he refers to Chris Marker's La Jetée as an "elegant post-apocalypse stanza" and notes the nascent "nerds vs. jocks schism" buried within Dr. Strangelove—they only serve to make some of the bitter lessons he imparts go down more easily.
These morals are personal ones, with Oswalt fearlessly throwing himself under the bus for his hubris and foolhardiness during the early days of his career. This comes out most potently in his chapter on Largo, the Los Angeles venue that saw a rapid rise in stature thanks to its regular Monday night comedy showcases. "A good set could literally change the path of your life," he writes.
But with that also came a point when Oswalt and his comedy peers "started to eat each other alive," gaming for the closing spot on the bill, or showing up even when they weren't performing in the hopes of sneaking in a few minutes on stage. For his part, Oswalt would leave the venue when a friend was on, "not wanting to see them kill, not liking the curdled butane stink it'd create in my stomach." This experience may seem singular, but it should be very familiar to any creative person who has let their ego cloud their thinking.
The deftness of Silver Screen Fiend lies in Oswalt's ability to tie his varied experiences back to his cinematic obsession, connecting film with those moments at the Largo, as well as his short-lived days as a writer for MADtv and an actor on The King of Queens, and also his stage work.
Oswalt connects key moments in his life to the movies he saw on those same days, and highlights the surprising parallels between the plots of the films and what was happening in his world. It all builds like a great script, toward a climax that turns Silver Screen Fiend into a sneaky self-help book. Oswalt's bracingly honest confessional of holding the world at arm's length with the unwitting help of the moving pictures becomes a catalyst for his fellow geeky readers to "get out of the dark once in a while."