SHIT, ACTUALLY | Kirkus Reviews

Revisiting her early career as an acid-tongued film critic, New York Times columnist West deconstructs 22 blockbusters in this nostalgic, laugh-out-loud romp.

In the introduction, the author labels this collection “silly,” a frivolous work initially conceived as a ray of light for a fraught America. Despite being released into an irreparably altered world—not just due to the pandemic, but also “the demoralizing grind of public life under Donald Trump”—these breezy essays fulfill that promise. They are warmhearted, acutely self-aware, and surprisingly timely, providing insight into modern society through movies first sold on VHS. West rates each film against the Harrison Ford vehicle The Fugitive (“the only good movie”), leaping across genres, from Jurassic Park to Garden State to The Shawshank Redemption. Whether she is excoriating Love, Actually (“the apex of cynically vacant cash-grab sentimentality”), describing how the “best thing” about the Harry Potter series is that she loves to hate it, or discussing whether or not The Lion King’s Mufasa has any actual parenting skills beyond his deep voice, West uses hindsight to gain critical distance and set up her sidesplitting one-liners. The book’s breadth of targets allows for a wide canvas. For example, an essay on Reality Bites examines West’s own teenage lusts and the dearth of realistic female role models in film while a treatise on The Santa Clause looks at the 1990s humor triumvirate of “lawyer jokes, hatred for psychiatrists, and your divorced parents getting back together.” A number of the pieces were previously published online, and some of the jokes may seem crude to West neophytes. But the author uses frivolity and humor as entry points to discussions about racism, sexism, and our tendency to overlook the damage a story can do if it keeps us entertained. Other targets include Rush Hour, American Pie, Titanic, and The Rock.

Like catching up with a dear and funny friend, this insightful and irreverent book is a soothing balm for turbulent times.

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 978-0-316-44982-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hachette

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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