Essays, Nonfiction

Shit, Actually by Lindy West

The Definitive, 100% Objective Guide to Modern Cinema

When the world is crap, we need some brevity to cheer ourselves up. Shit, Actually, is that brevity – and I enjoy everything Lindy West writes, so reading this was a given.

Synopsis

From the publisher marketing:
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 Shit, 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 fucking 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, Shit, 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.

Shit, 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.

Review

Lindy West started her career as a film critic and in this new book, she revisits that first love, film reviews. While some of the reviews in the book have been published before in various forms, Lindy re-watched all the films she included and updated her previous reviews accordingly, and of course added new ones to round the book out. A note on format, I enjoy listening to Lindy’s books, she reads them herself and does so very well (though I occasionally feel like she’s yelling at me but it works here), so if you’d like to wait for the audio (I listened to an ALC – advanced listening copy), it will be out on November 3rd.

The title of this book comes from Lindy’s review of Love, Actually, which was, until very recently (reading this book), a personal favorite of mine. Fair warning, if you love any of the films Lindy has reviewed and you don’t want your opinion changed, skip that chapter. However, I always like to look at old favorites through a critical, 20/20 (2020) lens so I soldiered on. In reading (and then re-watching) Lindy’s take on a favorite, my eyes were opened, and my brain reminded, how rampant sexism and misogyny was in film in years past (and still is, but thankfully less so today). The women, as Lindy points out, don’t have real roles. It’s a vehicle for, quite frankly, mostly trash men.

Most reviews demonstrate just how problematic many of society’s favorite films are problematic in many ways, not just from a feminist perspective, but greater inclusivity perspective as well. But paired with the social commentary, is lots of humor and warmth, Lindy demonstrates how we can still love our favorite movies, while also holding them to scrutiny. We want to acknowledge they are problematic so that we, as a society, can continue to grow, but that doesn’t mean we need to let them fall victim to “cancel culture” – we just need to expand the conversation around them and listen when people tell us how they are problematic.

The ranking system of number of DVDs of The Fugitive is a nice touch to each review (i.e. 7 out of 10 DVDs of The Fugitive) and is a nice Millennial nostalgic throwback, not just for The Fugitive, but that Lindy is still talking in DVDs in the age of Blu-ray, digital purchases, and streaming. Though personally, as my husband and I often discuss, the latest golden age of cinema was 1998-2001, and Gladiator is the greatest movie of the last forty years, not The Fugitive.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (DVDs of Gladiator)

Where to Buy
In the USA, I recommend purchasing through BookShop or your local independent, in the UK, and many other parts of the world, I recommend Blackwell’s, and if neither of those cover where you live, I recommend checking out your local booksellers! Independent bookstores are vital parts of every local community and I wholly endorse supporting your local stores versus Amazon. Click the image below to add the book to your Goodreads TBR!

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