Macaulay Culkin plays the merry trickster in “Junior,” a quasi fictional — and highly freeform — cautionary tale about the perils of early stardom. The former “Home Alone” star adopts various guises as he recounts his past, interspersing vignettes with frequent asides questioning their veracity. Far from dissembling, these self-protective gambits only feed the conviction Culkin had a seriously messed-up childhood. The tome’s happier revelation: he survived with his playful, albeit sophomoric, humor intact. That’s more you can say for many child actors.
Culkin knows he has father issues. He jokes about it, but he keeps coming back to it, peeling back layers of hurt and dysfunction in one entry after another. His father used to hit his mother, he writes in one, while another mentions his dad’s fondness for drink; most disturbing of all is his father’s harsh lesson about friendship on his 13th birthday.
Culkin defuses the intensity of these entries with vignettes about romance, quizzes, lists and crude drawings. Blotted-out passages and a font evoking an old fashioned typewriter underscores the deliberately unpolished text. As Culkin makes clear in the beginning (again protecting himself), he’s no writer.
And, he’s not particularly interested in conforming to anyone’s expectations — literary or otherwise — either. Early on in “Junior,” he talks about the pivotal moment he decided, at age 13, he wasn’t going to play Monkey Boy anymore.
“The mob of photographers didn’t cheer,” he writes. “They just yelled, ‘Do that chicken dance, monkey boy!,’ and I obliged knowing that they were killing any speck of joy I used to have for my work.
“Shame on them for doing that,” he adds. “Shame on me for letting them get away with it.”
Two thirds of the way, the story loses focus, which the narrator soon acknowledges: “Do you see the pickle I’m in? I now have to come up with a way to bring this all together.”
He does, of course. Culkin pulls the story together with more lists: things to do before he dies and a series of dedications labeled “for” and “not for.” Dad’s on top of both, in an amusing, but still promising sign he’s working through his issues. The memoir paints an encouraging portrait of a bruised soul finding a way to deal with his issues — and fame — on his own terms.