Author Shea Serrano On His Love For The Big Screen, Family And Mexican American Roots
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Late in the book "Movies (And Other Things)," there is a line that could be sort of a motto for the whole project. Quote, "This will be preposterous, but please treat it seriously." The man who wants us to treat these preposterous things seriously is Shea Serrano. He's a writer for The Ringer. His last book, "Basketball (And Other Things)," was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and praised by President Obama. So obviously, Serrano had to keep mining this vein of gold with "Movies (And Other Things)."
Shea Serrano, welcome.
SHEA SERRANO: (Laughter) What's going on? That's a good intro.
SHAPIRO: Thank you. I mean, I don't know. Do you agree that that line - this is preposterous, but please treat it seriously - is kind of like a motto for the book?
SERRANO: That is the single most representative line in the book.
SERRANO: I'm glad that that's the one you grabbed.
SHAPIRO: Oh, it's so nice of you to say. So why treat these preposterous questions seriously? I mean, this is a book full of such ridiculous questions as, were the Jurassic Park raptors just misunderstood? What's the value of treating such absurd questions like this seriously?
SERRANO: I wish I had a more romantic answer for you. I enjoy really digging into a thing - like, if a movie like the - like "Jurassic Park" we're talking about...
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JURASSIC PARK")
RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH: (As Hammond) Dr. Grant, my dear Dr. Sattler, welcome to Jurassic Park.
SERRANO: I liked it the first time I watched it. I've liked it every time I've watched it since. The franchise is fun. Things like that don't often get celebrated the way that I think that they should. So if I have the opportunity to celebrate some stuff, which is largely what the book is about, I'm going to do that. And I'm just going to lean all the way in, and I'm going to try to be as respectful and courteous as possible because I think, you know, this is art. It deserves that treatment. And let's see what happens.
SHAPIRO: This book mostly focuses on movies from the '80s to the present, which is, like, movies you would've been exposed to when you were a kid.
SHAPIRO: Talk to me about the role that film played in your childhood.
SERRANO: You know what movies do for - or what they did for me, anyway - is they introduced me to a lot of the stuff that I would soon learn to identify as cool. So a movie like "Desperado," for example - you have Antonio Banderas. And he's got a ponytail, and he's just sort of gallivanting around with his guitar case full of guns.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DESPERADO")
ANTONIO BANDERAS: (As El Mariachi, singing in Spanish).
SERRANO: And he's saying cool things, and he's doing cool things. And like, you don't understand it when you're watching it as a kid. You just look at it, and you go, like, oh, that's neat. Like, these are cool people.
SHAPIRO: Except your interest in movies is not limited to, quote, unquote, "cool movies." Like, you have a deep passion for "Finding Nemo."
SERRANO: Well, yeah. I'm a little bit offended right now that you think "Finding Nemo" is not a cool movie.
SERRANO: "Finding Nemo" is incredibly cool.
SHAPIRO: I'm just saying, as a teenage boy trying to seek out coolness...
SHAPIRO: Look. When I was a teenager, I liked "The Little Mermaid." And maybe now as a 40-year-old, I can say "The Little Mermaid" was cool, but I wouldn't go into school with swagger and be like, hey, I just saw "Little Mermaid" over the weekend.
SERRANO: (Laughter) All right. That's fair. But "Finding Nemo" came later in my life...
SERRANO: ...When, like, different things are cool. I was, like, a young dad, and I'm watching this fish travel across the ocean to save his son. Cool changes.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FINDING NEMO")
ALBERT BROOKS: (As Marlin) Nemo. Nemo, Nemo - no.
SHAPIRO: You also have a thing for romantic comedies, and you're like, these...
SERRANO: I love it.
SHAPIRO: ...Deserve more Academy Awards than they've gotten.
SERRANO: I love a good rom-com. Give me that story. Let me see them meet in New York. And somebody's a journalist, and the other one's not. And then somebody makes a bet or something, and they start dating. And then they fight, and then they get back together. There's comfort in that format.
SHAPIRO: You've got a whole series of reassigning Academy Awards - Oscars that should have gone to other movies. And there are a lot of romantic comedies in there. Give me the one romantic comedy that you think was the most overlooked by the academy.
SERRANO: I would probably go with "My Best Friend's Wedding," which I think is, like, the peak of the art form.
SHAPIRO: This is Julia Roberts at her finest.
SERRANO: This is Julia Roberts at her finest. We have the incredible dinner scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Together forever, that's how it must be. To live without you would only be heartbreak for me.
SERRANO: It has all of the parts that you want. I think Julia Roberts is the greatest rom-com actor or actress that's ever been.
SHAPIRO: But of course, Julia Roberts won her Oscar for "Erin Brockovich" instead.
SERRANO: That should not have happened. I mean, she should...
SERRANO: No, she should have gotten that Oscar. Sure. Julia Roberts should get an Oscar probably anytime she gets on the screen. But she definitely should have gotten one for "My Best Friend's Wedding."
SHAPIRO: It's really clear that while you are omnivorous in your consumption of cinema, there is a special place in your heart for Mexican and Mexican American characters, and that especially comes across in the chapter titled "Can We Talk About Selena For A Minute?"
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIDI BIDI BOM BOM")
SELENA: (Singing) Bidi bidi bom bom, bidi bidi bom bom.
SERRANO: To me, in my head, it was a gigantic movie. It was huge in San Antonio. This was, like, a thing people were really excited about. We were - you were buying tickets early to the movies. You were - it was, like, a whole big thing. And I realized when I left San Antonio that it was not like that for everybody else.
SHAPIRO: Can you tell us about a scene that embedded itself in your brain?
SERRANO: Yeah. The one that sticks out immediately - the first one I think of is when Edward James Olmos - Jennifer Lopez and her brother - they're riding in the car, and they're trying to get him to book them some shows in Mexico. And he has this whole conversation with them about how, like, that's kind of a tricky situation. And they're like, why? But we're Mexican. And he's like, well, take it easy. We're Mexican American, which is different.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SELENA")
EDWARD JAMES OLMOS: (As Abraham Quintanilla) And we got to prove to the Mexicans how Mexican we are, and we got to prove to Americans how American we are. We got to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than Americans, both at the same time. It's exhausting.
SERRANO: And I think even 25 years later, it's still the best examination of this idea in a movie.
SHAPIRO: Can we talk about your career for a second?
SERRANO: Let's do it.
SHAPIRO: Because you didn't start as a movie critic or as a journalist or a writer. You've said you didn't even realize writing was a real job when you were a kid. So, like, what jobs did you think you would have when you grew up?
SERRANO: (Laughter) When you're growing up on the south side of San Antonio, you can go, like, paint houses. You could work at a tire shop. Like, I didn't see writing until years and years and years later. Again, this was not, like, the intended career that I had.
I went to school. I met the woman that I eventually married, and I started teaching. She was teaching. She had some pregnancy complications. She ended up not being able to work anymore, and it was like, all right, well, we need money. So I'm just straight up Googling work-from-home jobs. Writer was one of them that came up, and I was like, all right, cool. I got an Internet and a computer. And I guess I'll give that a try. And there you go.
SHAPIRO: And now do you feel like you want to just, like, shout and wave your arms for the kids who are only seeing the landscape designers and the service members that what you're doing is a possibility for them, too?
SERRANO: Yeah, absolutely. And I try to make it a point in San Antonio, especially, till they go to middle schools, which is, like, when you want to try to catch them and be like, hey, I lived right around the corner here. My mama also worked at this gas station right here where your mom works. Like, there's some other stuff out here.
My youngest son - he's 6 now, and he's already like, oh, I want to be a writer like Daddy. And that's cool to me, you know? That's like, yeah, you should go do that job 'cause it's much easier than being, like - than working, like, brick work or concrete work.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. Shea Serrano, it's been great talking with you. Thanks a lot.
SERRANO: Man, thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: His new book is "Movies (And Other Things): A Collection Of Questions Asked, Answered, Illustrated."
(SOUNDBITE OF SELENA SONG, "BIDI BIDI BOM BOM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.