Book Review: “Will” by Will Smith and “The Boys” by Ron and Clint Howard

I didn’t set out to read two celebrity memoirs in a row. But when you are using the Libby library app, and you’ve placed a book on hold months ago, then its not really up to you when it becomes available. So it just so happened that these two audiobooks became available one right after the other.

First, some disclaimers:

  1. I’ve loved just about every movie both of these entertainers have made– one (Will Smith) on one side of the camera, the other (Ron Howard) on the other.
  2. I was a little too young to be into The Andy Griffith Show, exactly the right age for Happy Days, and a little too old for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
  3. I generally love audiobooks of memoirs from entertainers if they are the narrator. Entertainers are, well, entertaining. And both of these are excellently narrated by Will Smith and the Howard brothers themselves. For Will, there is the added bonus of music clips, and one soundbite from a Fresh Prince episode. For The Boys, there’s an introduction from Ron’s daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard.

So both memoirs are great entertainment. Both tell the stories of an entertainer I enjoy. Both follow the somewhat predictable story beats of rise, fall, redemption. (Although, spoiler alert: The “fall” part of The Boys is Clint’s fall into substance abuse, and not Ron’s; and Will’s fall is more about emptiness and disillusionment than about Hollywood excess, although there is some of that as well).

Now for the differences:

Will is chock full of all the things that, for better or for worse, make Will Smith Will Smith. LOTS of self-confidence. (Read: “he’s pretty full of himself.) Lots of times where he seemed to run out of ways to describe himself as a big deal. I could imagine him saying, “Let’s see, what’s another way to say, “I was the biggest movie star in the known universe?” Lots of self-congratulation for his own considerable work ethic. To his credit, he does acknowledge the almost ridiculous amount of “right place at the right time” luck that has marked his career. And his description of the “love-knowledge-discipline” trifecta he got from his grandmother, mother, and father is lovely. But still, its mostly “look at what I achieved by my relentless hard work.”

I appreciated that Will attempted to communicate Will Smith’s philosophy and worldview. However, that’s not to say I agree with Will Smith’s philosophy and worldview. His drug induced forays into astral projection, in which he finally learned that he is complete and beautiful in and of himself, just made me want to say, “You got a great foundation from your Christian grandmother. Go back to that if you are trying to figure out how to manage your obsession with success.”

The Boys, in contrast, is a humble love letter to Ron and Clint’s mother and father for the values they instilled, the sacrifices they made, and the support they gave the two brothers. Perhaps the benefit of having a co-writer is that Ron didn’t have to toot his own horn– Clint tooted it for him, and vice versa. Still, there is a humility here that is absent from Will. Will is a long highlight reel of how every blockbuster topped the one before. The Boys is mostly about Ron’s desire to become a filmmaker. But rather than a chapter for each film, the story basically ends with the release of Splash, his first true success as a fim maker. He spends much more time on the lessons he learned from making his first movie, Grand Theft Auto, then on the Oscar he won for A Beautiful Mind.

Unlike Will, there isn’t much in the way of spirituality in The Boys, Christian or otherwise. You just get the sense that Ron and Clint Howard, along with their parents Rance and Jean, are normal, salt-of-the-earth people that you would barely know were movie stars if they lived in your neighborhood.

All in all, these are two great reads from gifted entertainers/storytellers. And they are even better listens, if you like audiobooks and are looking for something for your next road trip. But if you are like me, you will come away respecting Will Smith, but genuinely liking the Howard family.




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