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Diane Keaton's mom co-stars in quirky 'Then Again'

The Associated Press, Wednesday, December 7, 2011, 7:03am (PST)

"Then Again" (Random House), by Diane Keaton: In her revealing and perceptive memoir, actress Diane Keaton recalls the bittersweet love affair that's dominated her life. Not with Woody Allen or Warren Beatty or Al Pacino — with her own artistic ambitions.

Diane Hall wanted so much to be a performer when she was growing up in Santa Ana, Calif. It took time — years, in fact — for her to realize that life wasn't what it seemed to be in movies and on TV shows. It still didn't seem real when she found herself an Oscar winner for "Annie Hall," on Warren Beatty's arm, and meeting remarkable people. She worried that she was in over her head in more ways than one.

"You're a movie star," Beatty advised her. "That's what you wanted. You got it. Now deal with it."

"Then Again" is about Keaton dealing with it — the fame, the family, the future and her ongoing need to be creative. It's refreshing to hear someone with her enviable success acknowledge that she has found it all a bit disorienting and, at times, unsatisfying.

A much larger presence in her life than the men she loved and lost — larger than Woody or Warren or Al — was her mother. Throughout the book, Keaton contrasts her story with Dorothy Hall's, told through her late mother's journals and other writings. Having raised four children and toughed out a strained marriage, Dorothy found herself battling depression in middle age and beyond. She had no better answers to life's challenges than did her successful daughter.

"Bogged down by the same dilemmas, Mom and I shared a fear of failure, a concern for what others think, demeaning comparisons, and low self-esteem." To cope, Dorothy tried to pep herself up with daily bromides; her daughter binged and purged.

Keaton writes about their lives with a warmth and richness that matches her public persona. Her book isn't filled with details about movies like "The Godfather" and "Reds." One of her best and bravest performances, in "Looking for Mr. Goodbar," is ignored, and she offers fleeting if telling observations about her fellow artists and former loves.

"Then Again" is like one of her quirky, lovable, eye-catching outfits, put together with a little of this and a bit of that, striving for a look that roughly follows the norm before throwing in something unexpected. In other words, it's unique — and just right for Diane Keaton.

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Douglass K. Daniel is the author of "Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks" (University of Wisconsin Press).

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