Selma Blair memoir “Mean Baby” review

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Selma Blair has been a consistent screen presence for the past two decades as a supporting actor in films including “Cruel Intentions,” “Legally Blonde” and the “Hellboy” movies. Her unique, androgynous beauty de ella paired with an often-sullen and petulant, if not to say bratty, demeanor make her perfect for certain roles, and it’s easy to feel that you know her de ella, although, in fact, you know only the characters she plays.

In “Mean Baby,” an intensely self-aware and cheerfully self-revealing Blair explores the abundant darkness arising from her fraught relationships with her mother, men, alcohol and, ultimately, multiple sclerosis. In different hands, this might make for a more painful read. But throughout her breezy narrative, Blair’s wry humor and her chatty, confiding tone make you feel that you’re spending 300 pages with a smart and, yes, slightly bratty new friend.

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If Blair was, in fact, a mean baby, an assertion for which she supplies ample evidence, she came by it honestly. The last of four daughters born to a beautiful, stylish, hard-working, and apparently narcissistic mother, Baby Girl Beitner — as her birth certificate de ella had it — did n’t have a proper name for the first few years of her life her.

Blair’s older sisters got cute, perky names: Mimi, Katie and Lizzie. Being finally named “Selma Blair” at age 3, she set her apart from her siblings and provided her an anodyne professional name (she dropped the Beitner when she got to Hollywood). Throughout her childhood de ella in a Detroit suburb, Blair yearned to be close to her mother de ella, who doled out affection frugally and kept her daughter de ella at a fashionable arm’s length. “There is always one person who gets under our skin, who knows our weak spots and neuroses and can’t help but go in for the kill,” Blair writes. “They are the people who wound us the most, because we care so much about what they think. …. For me, that person is my mother.” Toward the end of the book, Blair wonders whether her mother de ella, by then suffering memory loss and dying of cancer, “ever called out for me, the interloper, the last child she did n’t want but learned to love.”

Among the instances Blair cites in support of her meanness: at age 3, she bit sister Lizzie on the back (taking out a “chunk of flesh”). Later, she hit an adult next-door neighbor “squarely in the balls” with a metal sprinkler rod. She ruined a boy’s birthday party by pretending to lose an earring and crying out of fear of her mother’s punishment from her. The rest of the party was spent looking for the earring, which was in Blair’s pocket the whole time. And this, as a young child at her grandfather’s funeral: “I stood next to my dad as he accepted condolences … and punched every man who came near us in the nuts.”

Blair’s biting continued into adulthood, where it became her way of managing the awkwardness of meeting famous people. She bit Seth MacFarlane. Shebit Sienna Miller. Kate Moss, she reports, was the first, and only one, to bite back.

Blair says she first became drunk at age 7, at a Passover Seder at which “we basically had Manischewitz on tap.” Alcohol became her go-to means of self-medication. Her drinking from her causes her plenty of serious trouble, but it does not quite emerge as the dire problem it is until Blair writes about being raped in Florida during spring break from the University of Michigan. It was not an isolated incident, she divulges: “I have been raped, multiple times, because I was too drunk to say the words ‘Please. Stop.’ Only that one time was violent. They were total strangers. It was always awful, and it was always wrong, and I came out of each event quiet and ashamed.”

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Blair takes a hiatus from booze while pregnant with her son, Arthur, whose father is the fashion designer Jason Bleick. (Although no longer a couple, the two remain friendly and raise Arthur together.) But it doesn’t last. Traveling by plane in 2016 with Bleick and young Arthur, Blair combined wine and Ambien and raised a real ruckus before passing out. Blair endured the PR nightmare — but she could not forgive herself for allowing this to happen in her son’s presence. “Nothing truly tragic happened on that trip. But it could have,” she writes. “And that was enough. That was the wake-up call. It knocked me out of Selma. It knocked me out of my own discomfort long enough to say, I won’t do this anymore.”

Despite its darkness, “Mean Baby” is also entertaining, particularly when Blair writes about her friendships with Clare Danes (whom she calls her closest friend), Karl Lagerfeld, Ingrid Sischy, Ahmet Zappa (to whom she was married for two years), Sarah Michelle Gellar (with whom she shared an infamous on-screen kiss in 1999’s “Cruel Intentions”), Reese Witherspoon, Carrie Fisher, and, briefly, when both were in the same rehab facility, Britney Spears, whose favorite flip-flops Blair threw in the trash because she thought the star deserved to wear nicer shoes.

“Mean Baby” is peppered with references to Blair’s lifelong physical pain, burning sensations and inexplicable falls. These all foreshadow her diagnosis, in 2018, of multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the protective coating on nerves in the brain and spinal column, leading to numbness and a vast array of other possible symptoms. Blair, 49, guesses she’s had MS for 20 years or more; that’s a long time for MS to progress unchecked by treatment, and her case of it is more debilitating than many.

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Blair correctly observes that when a celebrity such as she reveals a condition like MS, people look to that person’s example for information and guidance. Because MS affects everyone differently, and because it’s such a complex and poorly understood condition, people with MS, particularly those newly diagnosed, can be especially hungry for such guidance. Blair says she looked toward the late author and fellow MS patient Joan Didion’s example when she received her diagnosis. It’s in that spirit that she offers brutally honest accounts of her symptoms and struggles de ella, including frequent falls, inability to focus, memory loss and incontinence. As she did in the 2021 documentary film “Introducing, Selma Blair,” Blair renders these disheartening details with humor. This is not a pity party. In fact, the film more brutally drives home the reality of Blair’s experience de ella: There are scenes in which she struggles to walk using a cane and has difficulty speaking when her therapy dog ​​jumps off her lap de ella. The documentary delivers the full weight of her condition in a way the book cannot.

I, too, have MS. Diagnosed in 2001, I have (knock on wood) kept progression and symptoms largely at bay through self-injections of an expensive but widely used medication. As a fellow MS patient (and former health reporter for this newspaper), I would have liked to read more about Blair’s course of treatment leading up to her decision to undergo HSCT, or hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation, a Hail Mary approach that is generally considered only when all other therapeutic options have been tried and failed.

But “Mean Baby” is not WebMD. Blair’s memoir of her life de ella thus far is funny and frank, a chance to spend time with a brave and big-hearted woman who’s grown up to be not so mean, after all.

Jennifer LaRue is a freelance writer in Hartford, Conn. She was a regular contributor to The Post’s Health section for 15 years.

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