Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Sh*t, Actually by Lindy West

Sh*t, Actually
by Lindy West
Published October 2020 by Hatchette Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
New York Times opinion writer and bestselling author Lindy West was once the in-house movie critic for Seattle's alternative newsweekly The Stranger, where she covered film with brutal honesty and giddy irreverence. In Sh*t, Actually, Lindy returns to those roots, re-examining beloved and iconic movies from the past 40 years with an eye toward the big questions of our time: Is Twilight the horniest movie in history? Why do the zebras in The Lion King trust Mufasa-WHO IS A LION-to look out for their best interests? Why did anyone bother making any more movies after The Fugitive achieved perfection? And, my god, why don't any of the women in Love, Actually ever f#^king talk?!?! 

From Forrest Gump, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Bad Boys II, to Face/Off, Top Gun, and The Notebook, Lindy combines her razor-sharp wit and trademark humor with a genuine adoration for nostalgic trash to shed new critical light on some of our defining cultural touchstones-the stories we've long been telling ourselves about who we are. At once outrageously funny and piercingly incisive, Sh*t, Actually reminds us to pause and ask, "How does this movie hold up?", all while teaching us how to laugh at the things we love without ever letting them or ourselves off the hook. 

Sh*t, Actually is a love letter and a break-up note all in one: to the films that shaped us and the ones that ruined us. More often than not, Lindy finds, they're one and the same.

My Thoughts:
I am a huge fan of Lindy West. I love her radical feminism, her sense of humor (even though sometimes it makes me cringe - here that means a lot of references to pooping and penises), and her political voice. She and I are clearly riding the same political wave; and, even in a book about movies, she manages to get in plenty of punches against the current administration. Clearly, then, this is not a book for fans of our 45th president. Our people who don't like cursing in a book because, as you can tell by the title of the book, West doesn't pull any punches there, either. 
"I love making fun of movies. I love turning a piece of criticism into a piece of entertainment. I love pointing out a plot hole that makes a superfine write me an angry e-mail. I love turning my unsophistication into a tool. I love being hyperbolically, cathartically angry for no reason. I love being flippant and careless and earnest and meticulous all at once.
...I'd rewatch a successful movies from the past to see how they hold up to our shifting modern sensibilities. That concept has grown even more relevant in recent years, as grappling with those shifts has become something of a national obsession...Are we "allowed" to like imperfect things that mean something to us?"
"...I selected movies that fit at least one of three categories: 1) cultural phenomena that took over the earth, 2) movies I was personally obsessed with, or 3) movies I picked because it seemed like someone should talk about them."
"...what I began working on as a silly book released into a darkness I understood - the demoralizing grind of public life under Donald Trump - is now to be a silly book released into a darkness I don't. I finished writing Sh*t, Actually six weeks into the COVID-19 quarantine - six weeks of trying to think of funny things to say about Face/Off while worrying about a friend on a ventilator, six weeks of mustering comical outrage over Harry Potter plot holes while the president went on television to suggest that the ill try drinking bleach."
See, even in the introduction, West works in politics. But that's hard to avoid when you're writing during a year like the one we're in. Kudos to West for being able to muster up the ability to find the funny in life right now. I need it. We need it. 

You may have noticed that West suggests that The Fugitive reached perfection in movie making. She loves it so much that she ranks all other movies against it. It ranks a 13 out of a possible 10. But that doesn't save it from West's skewering. And if she'll do that to one of her faves, you can imagine what she did to American Pie, which earned 0/10 Fugitives

West points out misogyny in these movies (lots and lots and lots of it), the lack of strong female characters (or any at all in some movies), and the lack of persons of color in the movies she's chosen. You might suggest that she handpicked the movies she reviews to make these points. But if you watches movies in the late 1990's, you'll quickly recall that she's pretty spot on. One of my favorite reviews was that of Face/Off, which is a movie I had, until recently, only seen once and hated it. But when my son was last here, he made us watch it because it finds it to be hilarious. As it turned out he was right and as I was reading West's review I was 100% in agreement with her because I could exactly picture the scenes she was talking about. My least fave review? The one the book's title is taken from, Love, Actually. Not because West is wrong about the movie but because she's right. I love that movie, even with the flaws I was already willing to acknowledge, and West may just have ruined it for me. And it's Christmas time, time for my annual viewing. Will I even be able to watch it? Oh, who are we kidding? Yes, I'll absolutely watch it. And I'll still love it (I mean, that scene of Hugh Grant, Prime Minister of Great Britain, dancing down the stairs of 10 Downing Street alone is worth watching the movie for); but I'll watch it with a new point of view. 

1 comment:

  1. I've been wanting to read this since it came out. I think I will over winter break! And I will agree with Lindy that The Fugitive is near perfection! I think I saw that movie in the theater over the summer at least ten times. Lol. I can't wait to pick this up! Yass! Great review.