Lindy West reviews classic movies from the last several decades in Shit, Actually: The Definitive, 100% Objective Guide to Modern Cinema. These are her favorites, meaning she likes to pick them apart and point out all the plot holes, weird characters, and clunky dialogue. So, if you’re looking for a serious cinematic analysis, look elsewhere.
West is a writer, blogger, and tweeter. This style informs her writing style in Shit, Actually, with copious exclamation points. She never shies away from the opportunity to use all caps for single words, sentences, and even entire paragraphs. If you’re a language purist, again, this may not be for you.
What West delivers is a lot of hearty laughs and incisive commentary. Looking back at these movies from the perspective of 2020 colors everything. She also draws on other current social movements like #MeToo and anti-racism, not to mention the pandemic. So in between the funny attitude and heartfelt critiques are many, many laugh out loud moments. And, be warned, she drops spoilers all over the place. (I will as well.)
Everything West reviews is judged against The Fugitive, with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. According to West it’s the perfect movie. Although women barely figure in it, West loves Dr. Richard Kimble and his pursuit of the truth behind his wife’s murder. Jones comes in a dogged FBI agent, and they both end up grudgingly appreciating each other. Perfect suspense and so much more, right?
I’ll admit I’m not a fan of Honey I Shrunk the Kids, but I love how West makes this kid-friendly action pic into a marital cautionary tale. But West’s best reviews in this genre are Terminator 2 and Face / Off. Maybe that’s just because I loved both movies. Unfortunately, West kind of hates Face / Off, which is a Nicholas Cage and John Travolta picture. And she really tears the surgical face switching conceit to pieces. Not to mention the men’s relationships with women. Terminator 2 made us all feel that technology in the future would be craaazy. But, as West tells it, reality hasn’t kept up with movie fantasy. And ooof, those time travel plot holes are ginormous.
West is a post-modern feminist. Thus, another big part of her critiques is how women get treated in the various pictures. For example, West believes Hermione should’ve been the focus of any Hogwarts movies. She’s way smarter and the guys depend on her anyway. Many of the movies West chooses are pretty male-centric. And she never fails to point out why there’s only one female character. Or why that love interest just lets the guy take charge of all romantic / sexual decisions. (The Notebook and Love, Actually, I’m looking at you.)
Forrest Gump is a classic, feel-good drama in most people’s minds. In West’s it’s the combination of bunches of weird characters and this guy named Forrest who gets bamboozled. Over and over, he just doesn’t know how to deal with his mother’s axioms, his girl’s flakiness, and his army buddies’ strange predilections.
And then there’s Twilight, the 2000s multi-volume vampire story. Not a favorite of mine, even though I love vampires in general. Here, West only dissects the first movie. And, like me, she finds it wanting. So if Bella and Edward are going to be a couple, then West is going to shoot holes in the structure of the relationship. Like, why would a 180-year-old vampire be so hot to go to prom? Or maybe we should say cold because, you know, he’s cold like the dead.
I enjoyed reading one review at a time. That kept it funny for me. When I tried to read a few in a row the obsessive snark, all caps, and exclamation points tired me out. Still, it’s a fun diversion in the middle of the other, darker aspects of life in 2020.
Lindy West is definitely the anti-Roger Ebert. She’s a movie critic for millennials and Gen Y, complete with lots of excited yelling. She’s smart, funny, and knows how to turn a sarcastic phrase. If you love movies and like her writing style this could be for you.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Hachette Books, and the author for a digital advanced readers’ copy in exchange for this honest review.