Calling Movies (And Other Things) (MAOT) a book about movies is like calling Friday Night Lights a show about football; they’re both more ambitious and profound than their loglines imply. Friday Night Lights centres on a football team, sure, but the show is really about friendship, family, trust, racism, and attractive young people making their way through the world. And with MAOT, author Shea Serrano uses popular movies as a starting point, before wandering far off the beaten path.
Serrano is an accomplished writer who put his clout to excellent use. As a #1 New York Times best selling author, his latest book locked down contributions from a couple Hollywood stars. MAOT begins with a forward from John Leguizamo, a talented actor and comedian whose work inspired a young Serrano. And Avengers star Don Cheadle wrote the afterward, because as Serrano puts it, “He’s fucking Don Cheadle, one of the four or five coolest people on the planet.” The choice of contributors, much like every other aspect of the book, comes straight from Serrano’s heart.
MAOT isn’t your typical book about movies. It’s less like a detail-rich Wikipedia entry exhaustively probing great films than a woozy ayahuasca trip that that makes you look at cinema in exciting new ways. Thousands of film scholars can tell you how Jurassic Park ushered in a new era of blockbuster cinema. But only a mind as joyfully outlandish as Serrano’s could dedicate several pages to a section titled, “Were the Jurassic Park Raptors Just Misunderstood?”
The book features 30 compelling chapters that are posed as questions; they’re well-argued, delightful to read, and fun to debate afterwards. Serrano’s work in MAOT feels like a pop culture-inspired version of Chuck Klosterman’s HYPERtheticals.
MAOT is so full of outside-the-box topics that a chapter titled, “Who gets it the worst in Kill Bill,” feels almost mundane. You can expect loads of entertaining discussions like, “Which kills are in the Action Movie Kills Hall of Fame?, Who’s in the perfect heist movie crew?,” and “Which race was white-savioured the best by Kevin Kostner?”
Serrano once again teams up with illustrator Arturo Torres, and their two styles compliment each other perfectly. Torres is the ideal artist to capture the book’s playful spirit. He creates the intro to the chapter on tough guy dog owners by spelling out the words “Tough Guy” with bloodied corpses, and yet, the image is far from grisly.
Much of Torres’ work takes on an absurdist bent; in one case, Goodfellas-era Joe Pesci sits framed in his, “Funny like I’m a clown?” scene, dressed in clown attire, big red nose and all. And the book’s gorgeous cover is a pop culture smörgåsbord full of random characters that somehow don’t clash. It doesn’t feel weird that Jackie Chan, J-Lo’s Selena, and Jason Voorhees, are all hanging out together. Torres once again knocks it out of the park with his beautiful illustrations.
Serrano crafted the perfect book for the Twitter generation. You could binge the book front to back in an afternoon or read the chapters in any order. Want to kick off your read with chapter 24’s The Social Network versus Get Out debate? Go for it. It helps that Serrano writes in a blunt, easy to follow, conversational style that flows seamlessly from page to page. The book feels like less of a reading exercise than a one-way dialogue with an old friend.
MAOT is so expansive that it’s bound to touch on a subject near and dear to your heart. Serrano tackles a broad spectrum of pop culture and touches on everything from Marvel movies to Mean Girls. And while the book does skew towards bro-y topics, it also references films like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. And there is a section on what makes the shamefully underseen coming-of-age flick Booksmart great. By the time you reach the end of a chapter, you’re eager to dive into the next topic.
Reading Serrano’s work is like being at a party and having the full attention of the funniest dude in the room. His wit, charm, and breadth of knowledge make his comedic style seem effortless. But that’s like saying Ray Allen’s silky jumper was a gift from god. What separates the Serranos and the Ray Allens of the world is how much work they put in behind the scenes. The critical ingredient to Serrano’s comedic formula is how well-versed he is in the material.
Unlike most funny people on Twitter, Serrano isn’t just some movie junkie cracking wise about what he loves. Serrano takes exhaustive deep dives into each topic before committing his jokes to the page. And his effort shows. Rest assured, he put in weeks of extensive research before turning his attention to a chapter like, “The Movie Mexican Scene Hall of Fame.” Serrano is so well-versed in each subject that he’s able to bend a film’s mythology to his will, resulting in many hilarious moments. Serrano’s work combines the thorough analysis of a New Yorker article with the absurdity of a Dr. Seuss book.
Who doesn’t love reading through a great list, looking at dope art, and arguing about subjective rankings? MAOT is like the best aspects of your social media feeds without the negativity. The beauty of Serrano’s work is that it creates that same joyful buzz you get from hanging out with your friends as you joke around and come up with wild stories.
MAOT is all caps FUNNY, easy to read, and infinitely quotable; the perfect gift for any film nerd. I’ll take it one step further: reading Movies (And Other Things) should be any pop culture junkie’s right of passage.
SHOULD YOU PUT IT ON YOUR SHELF?
Yes, yes, hell yes. The book’s cover features Heath Ledger’s Joker, serving Kill Bill’s The Bride popcorn, while John Wick hands Demolition Man villain Simon Phoenix, a Pepsi. This book deserves a spot on your shelf, but good luck keeping it there. You’ll be too busy re-reading it and showing it off to every guest who rolls through.
Movies (And Other Things): A Collection of Questions Asked, Answered, Illustrated will be available on Tuesday, October 8th, 2019.