It’s always an adventure when an artist famous in one medium takes on another. Sean Penn is such an adventurer. With “Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff” he fashions a story based in our culture and makes apparent the inconsistencies inherent therein.
An article in Vogue by Corey Seymour dated April 6 2018 provides some context to the journey Mr. Penn took to arrive at the manuscript. Acting in the public eye since the 1970’s, he is the iconic Jeff Spicoli of Fast Times fame, the damaged ex-con Jimmy Markum in Mystic River, and the heroic Harvey Milk in Milk. But he is much more than that. As a prolific writer and director, he’s had a hand in hundreds of projects. With fame though comes definition, and with definition, expectations.
Big projects that require assets and funding and other people are necessarily the result of compromise. Many people are invested, and if you’re lucky they are people with talent and style and vision, and they don’t give up on that vision without cost. The balancing of those costs is accounted for through compromise, and with every compromise you give up a bit of self.
But that is not true of a novel. In writing “Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff”, Penn did not have to give in to what others expected of him, he did not have to compromise to get it made, it is a true reflection of his inner voice. It reflects a wry iconoclastic wit. It exposes a sense of his vision of us, of the inconsistent culture we live in.
The protagonist is a sewer worker and an assassin. His life is both boring and filled with intrigue. He is surrounded by vacuous celebrity worship and shallow patriotism. He is the result of his upbringing and his environment, necessary and amoral. He provides thus a lens unbiased by common mores and cultural norms through which we view our world, free of the assumptions with which we justify the absurdity of it. He says he’s not trying to frame an opinion, but encourage us to form one. It’s on my to-do list.