Film commentary comes in many forms, from the long-form newspaper review to the poster blurb. Lindy West’s new book Shit, Actually is a series of essays that offers a chatty, light overview of an eclectic collection of movies. While fans of West’s work might enjoy Shit, Actually, I found it to be a departure from her normal thoughtful, intense writing style and had trouble getting through it. West’s past work includes a lot of deconstruction of the societal norms that surround women and fat people in incisive, lingering prose, while this book is much less focused on actual film commentary and more interested in providing humorous summaries. While West’s previous work has been timeless, this collection comes across as very of-the-moment rather than evergreen.
West introduces her work with a note on the COVID-19 crisis, and there are multiple references to the global pandemic throughout, which kind of puts a clock on how long this book can feel relevant. In a lot of ways, these essays come across much more as blog posts than essays edited and published in a book. While that works really well in some collections (see anything by Sam Urby) these essays have no flow, they don’t form a cohesive narrative about movies, the industry, or anything, really. There is a lot of use of Internet grammar, which does come across as very funny, and works well within the medium. The choice of films is also a bit difficult to parce, West offers her criteria for inclusion as movies she likes, cultural touchstones, and movies she thinks need to be talked about. She then proceeds to not actually talk about any of the movies, just summarize them and throw in the occasional one-liner.
There were definitely great, funny parts of this book. The titular “Shit, Actually,” which deconstructs the 2003 British romantic comedy Love, Actually is far and away the funniest and most polished of these essays. This makes sense, as this was one of the essays, originally published on Jezebel.com, that inspired the collection. This essay is truly funny, and provides pretty good commentary on the movie, pointing out the nonsensical elements and sexist tropes that populate the film. It’s not exactly an original take today, but it was originally published in 2013. There are some moments of genuine insight, but for the most part the entire book is just speed-of-light summaries of the movies that are still somehow too long. While the book is marketed as an examination of popular film, asking big questions, most of the essays come off as movie reviews dictated into a cell phone and promptly abandoned. West’s previous work might lead a reader to expect a thoughtful, well-constructed commentary for each film, that takes into account gender, race, and social stigmas, but that reader would be disappointed. Instead, Shit, Actually provides just under two dozen movie reviews containing a Wikipedia summary with a few jokes thrown in. West, normally a writer of startling originality and spectacular voice, really falls flat here. While I have in the past written a positive review of West’s work, this book was a big disappointment.
Shit, Actually, will be published October 20, 2020. It can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. You can also buy a copy on Amazon, using our affiliate link here.