Popdose at Kirkus Reviews: The Blair Weed Project?

Written by Books, Kirkus Reviews

For almost 80 years, Kirkus Reviews has served as the industry bible for bookstore buyers, librarians, and ordinary readers alike. Now Popdose joins the Kirkus Book Bloggers Network to dish on the best — and sometimes the worst — in pop-culture and celebrity books.

This week, we catch up with a once-rising star whose Hollywood days went up in a puff of smoke…

Heather Donahue, GROWGIRLWhen F. Scott Fitzgerald observed that there are no second acts in American lives, he was not (as is commonly misunderstood) saying that those lives are over after their opening acts — but noting, rather, the curious phenomenon of careers that segue directly from Act One to Act Three. This path is particularly prevalent in the entertainment industry, where it is standard procedure to skip from Promising Newcomer to Superstar (or, just as likely, to Embittered Has-Been) without any sustained period of steady, high-quality-but-low-profile work in between. Nowhere is this model more prevalent than in Hollywood, and few Hollywood newcomers were more promising — or blew their collective second act more thoroughly — than the crew behind 1999’s The Blair Witch Project.

That ultra-low-budget indie feature constituted nothing less than a reinvention of the horror film, and its found-footage aesthetic spawned a new subgenre. And after that — nothing. The virtual disappearance of Blair Witch’s cast and crew from the scene — writer/directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez have only a handful of credits between them in the last decade, and the male leads have been reduced to bit parts and occasional TV work — might suggest the handiwork of some malevolent supernatural entity. But now star Heather Donahue has resurfaced with a memoir, Growgirl, that traces her surprising path post-Blair Witch.

The strength of Donahue’s improvised performance gave Blair Witch an emotional punch that sets it apart from successors like the formulaic Paranormal Activity series; it’s a raw and fiercely honest piece of acting, a facade of self-righteous ambition gradually dissolving as she realizes how far in over her head she is, descending into the naked terror of the film’s finale. In real life, too, Donahue demonstrates a knack for improvisation, for taking the unexpected elements that come into her life and following them fearlessly to unexpected destinations — like a year spent farming marijuana.

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