Shit, Actually by Lindy West 🎧

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

Shit, Actually by Lindy West (read by the author) opens with an introduction stating that West wrote this book during the pandemic. Her first two collections of essays, Shrill and The Witches Are Coming, were both serious, she says, and given that her roots are in comedy, she wanted to get back to the funny stuff. It was actually from West’s first book that I learned why I wasn’t laughing at stand-up comedy anymore: punching down. Thus, I expect West’s form of humor to punch up, be razor-sharp, and definitely make me laugh. She delivers.

Most of the essays in Shit, Actually are about 20 minutes long in audio format. Each essay goes through the entire plot of a movie, making fun of memorable moments and trashing scenes that never should have been given the green light. It’s like watching a movie with your best friend (a movie you’ve both seen, I hope, or all that talking would make you mad). The first movie West discuses is The Fugitive because, claims West, it is the most perfect movie ever. Thus, every movie she “reviews” is rated ___ out of 10 DVDs of The Fugitive. Hearing the rating never failed to make me laugh because it’s so silly.

Some classics, like Back to the Future II and Love, Actually have a more serious tone behind them. Love, Actually has been properly raked across the coals in pop culture for aggressive fat shaming, inappropriate relationships, unrealistic female characters, and stalking sold to viewers as true love. (I remember when I worked at an all-women’s college there was a poster about the dangers of stalking that used images from Love, Actually). In Back to the Future II there are only two female characters with lines, and West notes that Marty McFly and Doc Brown literally throw one of them in the dumpster at the beginning and leave her there the entire film. While it’s a hilarious book, Shit, Actually never fails to criticize terrible female characters and making fun of fat people.

Other movies really are classics that West appreciates, but that doesn’t stop her from examining them through a comedic lens. Shawshank Redemption is a winner, as are Jurassic Park and Speed. But the best essays are the ones that highlight how painfully ridiculous a movie was, and we all just accepted that. See Face/Off with Nicholas Cage and John Travolta, who literally take their faces off and have a face off. See also American Pie with people who don’t understand how doors work, or what boundaries are, or that it’s considered child pornography to video tape high school girls in their underwear.

And because West wrote her book during the pandemic, it is extremely now in content. She isn’t “looking back” on the pandemic, but thinking about what she saw, just like the rest of us. Take this moment from Top Gun, a movie West doesn’t get behind:

THIS IS HOW AMERICA BECAME A HOTSPOT OF A GLOBAL PANDEMIC. Because my generation was raised to believe not just that safety is for dweebs but that it’s EVIL! Maverick is a full psycho and would definitely be at the “reopen America” protests because he wants the RIGHT to get his b-hole waxed even if he isn’t actually GOING to go get his b-hole waxed and even though he knows that many thousands more marginalized and high-risk people will die and many b-hole waxing businesses will ultimately fail because you cannot sustain an economy on a handful of slobbering fascists who feel the need, the need for a Jamba Juice.

While the jokes will certainly come off the page, having that voice, the voice of a friend on the couch watching a movie with you, the voice that adds inflections so you don’t miss anything, was perfect. I was sad when this book was over! 10 out of 10 DVDs of The Fugitive if The Fugitive were a book.

30 comments

  1. The fact that she judges on a scale of The Fugitive DVDs is fantastic! I love that movie! What an interesting premise for a book. I’ll have to check it out! Thanks for posting:)

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    • I know! It’s like 9 out of 10 DVDs of the Fugitive. Every time she said the rating, my spouse would laugh. The joke never got old for him. I also enjoy how someone looks back at these movies and notes how bizarre they are. Like, what we just put up with, especially women, who are treated like garbage in a lot of 80s and 90s movies, or like puppets who do what a male writer and director wish they would but likely wouldn’t choose to do.

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  2. This sounds like a lot of fun. I have some pretty big holes in my knowledge of popular films (of those listed in your post, I’ve only seen Love, Actually and Shawshank Redemption) so this might be a good way to close some of those gaps – work through the films one by one and then listen to her recap!

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    • She really gives most of the plots away, albeit with some snarkiness. Even the movies I hadn’t seen made sense and still made for funny listening. It could be a fun watch/listen project, though! I hadn’t thought of that.

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  3. This reminds that when I was at uni and for a long time afterwards I was too broke to go to movies but I could keep track of them via Mad Magazine which did a deadly accurate movie spoof in each issue.

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    • Oh, how fun! It also makes me think of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a TV show on which a guy and his robots would watch a movie and make fun of it. You felt like you were in the audience.

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  4. This sounds great, but I haven’t seen enough films to appreciate it, I’d imagine (I’m terrible at seeing films). I used to love MST3000 though (I don’t think we get it here but I saw it in the US).

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    • As someone who grew up in the 1990s, it blows my mind when people tell me they haven’t seen many movies. I think it’s because at my age, we were part of the HBO-now-we-have-cable generation, so movies and TV were a huge part of our lives.

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      • Well it’s partly my dodgy cortisol issue in that so so many films are too violent for me to cope with (I’ve had trouble with Batman films, couldn’t watch the Matrix, etc) and also I’m faceblind so I have terrible trouble telling people apart (that’s why the Avengers find have worked well). The same thing that gave me the cortisol issues left me with sensory issues so I find a cinema just too loud and overwhelming. So films don’t really work for me and I’ve seen surprisingly few even for someone in my 50yo cohort.

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        • Ohhhhh. I wonder if a black and white silent-era film would be good for you. Oftentimes, they don’t have many characters to speak of, and the costumes are distinct. Buster Keaton is great.

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          • Still can’t tell the people apart! I don’t like unpredictable anarchic comedy either! I love the Christopher Guest satires and documentaries though. And heartwarming UK films like Pride.

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  5. this sounds like the perfect book to listen to, rather than read (although no doubt it would be funny to read as well). Perhaps watching the movies before reading the essays would make it especially entertaining? I don’t have the time for that project, but if I ever do, it would be fun!

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  6. This does sound really fun! I’m sure I’ve seen The Fugitive but I can’t remember anything except Harrison Ford going over the waterfall. Her description of Top Gun is so accurate! That movie drives me crazy!

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      • Top Gun is one of Peter’s childhood favourites. I had never seen it until we watched it together shortly after we started dating. Peter’s current post-pandemic dream is to watch the new Top Gun movie in cinema. A good portion of the movie is just Tom Cruise breaking the rules and no one but Val Kilmer caring. Also they play beach volleyball wearing jeans.

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