memoir / review

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry

I will say up front I never really watched Friends, have no real interest in Friends, and even when it was first airing I felt it was an oddly retrograde throwback show to an imaginary all-white NYC where no one really had to work to live. That said, it was impossible to avoid reading about the Friends cast in any magazine for about a decade and they were constantly in the news so I was well aware of who Matthew Perry was and his famous struggles with drugs.

Much like Selma Blair, I truly wonder what he was thinking in writing a memoir. I think it’s another case of someone who appears to be deeply troubled having no idea how they come across or that other people exist as real people with real emotions and needs.

I think the story that was the most telling was when he went on and on about how great it was that David Schwimmer back in the early days of Friends got them all to agree that they all wanted to be paid the same and that if any one character didn’t come back for any reason, none of them would come back, effectively shutting down the show. He thought this was great, they all made the same amount of money even though he felt like each character sort of had their own “season” where their storyline was more prominent. This was one of the few stories where he really credits someone else for having a good idea and recognizes his good fortune to be in this situation-the money from Friends basically sets him up for life and pays for the millions in rehab he spends over the years. The negotiation power of the cast of Friends was famous even in its day because they demanded over a million per episode in the later seasons and fewer episodes than the network standard 20+ and got it because they said if they didn’t all get it, none of them would return. A true triumph of collective bargaining.

Then a few chapters later he talks about joining the cast of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip which ultimately was a failure and only briefly on the air despite a hugely talented cast and crew. In this story, he talks about how they wanted to pay the ensemble cast the same amount of money and have them all on equal billing. He did not want that and argued with them until he got top billing and twice as much money as any other cast member. Could he not see how he is doing the opposite of what he said was such a lifesaving idea back on Friends? What did he need the money and top billing for? He had not had a lot of success post-Friends, he was a millionaire many times over. Why not work as a unit as they famously did in Friends? Why did his colleagues on Studio 60 deserve less?

He also details things like punching a hole in Jennifer Aniston’s trailer wall and her concern over his substance abuse. He claims he never did drugs or drank on set but also that he was drinking and doing drugs at a maintenance level that was very high which casts some doubt on that claim. One does have to wonder if the collective bargaining on the part of the other cast members of Friends is how he even stayed on the show at all. He never seems to contemplate this but he would check himself into rehab between seasons on hiatus and come back 40 pounds lighter and sober for a bit. This was common knowledge to even the public at large so it must have been known on set.

He credits himself with creating a new way to talk (emphasizing different words in a sentence) that has entered the mainstream that he grew tired of but had to keep up. He doesn’t seem to think about other people at all. His parents and Keith Morrison, his stepfather all seem to alternately have had enough of him and tried to reach out. His dad in particular seems toxic and there is a photo he didn’t talk about in the book but included which looks like Perry and a prostitute? A stripper? that his dad had hired for a teenaged birthday. I think there is probably a lot there. All we really get from his early years is that his mother was very young and ended up working with Trudeau, he was a good tennis player for Canada but not California where people would play outside year round, and that he ended up moving in with his mostly absentee father at around 15.

It was striking how he talked about women. He was very othering of Aniston and mostly seemed shocked she didn’t want to date him. He had a long-term casual relationship with the unnamed Lizzy Caplan that he seems convinced would have ended up with children and a happy home had he only proposed as planned with a strange photo featuring a few hundred hearts to represent their text messages over the years. Which not only sounds like a present for a child but a very small amount of texts for a multi-year, often long-distance relationship. It made me wonder if Caplan knew they were in a relationship. After the final parting he knows she is dating a British man and dividing her time between the US and England. He is going to do a play in London and invites her but she won’t be in town. He continues to contact her and she finally tells him to stop contacting her and he takes this to mean that since she is dating her future husband she has no time for friends anymore. Or maybe she just wanted you to stop contacting her all the time, Matthew. You don’t sound like a great boyfriend and you’ve been broken up for years. He repeats this with other women who he seems to break up with then romanticizes some happy ending that never happened.

I also wonder if his ghostwriter hated him because twice he said it was unfair that Keanu Reeves was still alive when Chris Farley and River Phoenix were dead.

Again, the Celebrity Memoir Book Club podcast does a good deep dive into some of these points and even more and is worth checking out.

One thought on “Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry

  1. Pingback: Books I read in November | Rachel Reads Books

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