Underneath It All, by Traci Elizabeth Lords (HarperCollins). Entertainment Weekly's Caroline Kepnes calls this memoir by the former porn star (nee Nora Kuzma) "jarring and sometimes too anecdotal, unless you grew up in the 80s and dig Poison." Other critics are not as harsh. USA Today's Amanda Tyler finds the book—which recounts Lords' troubled childhood, her experimentation with drugs, and her "struggle to earn credibility" as an actress in Hollywood—to be teeming with "genuine emotion" and "soulful resiliency." And though the Village Voice's Howard Hampton emphasizes Lords' egotism in ruminating on her "savage, power-tripping porn self," the often curmudgeonly critic locates a sobering truthfulness in what he calls a "recovery narrative": "Her girlhood was a regular Larry Clark movie … but the most vivid parts here evoke a Rust Belt poverty she earnestly dreamed of escaping at all costs." (Buy Underneath It All.)
What Was She Thinking? (Notes on a Scandal), by Zoë Heller (Henry Holt). Told from the perspective of Barbara Covett, a lonely, retired high-school teacher, Heller's new novel, which chronicles the affair of a pottery teacher and a 15-year-old student, is a piercing comedy of manners: It skewers "dunderheaded educational reform," "the frenzy and foolishness of the media," and the "gleeful, voyeuristic fuss" over a not particularly shocking act, writes the Miami Herald's Connie Ogle. It's equally an "intelligent" work of "psychological suspense," writes the New York Observer's Adam Begley: "We know what happened right away; thereafter we're concerned with motive" and "mysteries of the head and heart," which are explained by a narrator who "is clear-eyed about everyone but herself." She "belongs to the Nabokovian tradition of the unreliable narrator," agrees The Washington Post's Chris Lehmann, which could make her "fatally distasteful" were it not for the author's expert balancing of "the swelling litany of Barbara's shortcomings with Barbara's own, often disarming confessional voice." (What Was She Thinking?)
Reunion, by Alan Lightman (Pantheon). This novel, more "sentimental than revelatory," takes place at a 30th college reunion; a man walks the grounds of his alma mater and re-experiences the courtship of the one woman he's ever loved. It's a "warhorse" of a "supernatural premise" that, for the San Francisco Chronicle's David Kipen, recalls It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol; but the book, characterized by a "casual confidence" is also a "lyrical meditation on aging."The Boston Globe's Gail Caldwell, however, feels that Lightman gets bogged down in clichés and likens the proceedings to a "corny love song, the themes of which have graced pop culture from the Shirelles to The Bridges of Madison County." The New York Times Book Review's Jonathan Wilson focuses on the "spare, economical" prose, which is "charged with meaning" and restores "authenticity to experiences that have been sullied and distorted by decades of interference from, well, the media." (Buy Reunion.)
Freaky Friday (Walt Disney Pictures). The real coup of this body-swap remake—which, according to the New York Daily News' Jami Bernard, "often resembles a top-of-the-line sitcom"—is the "lively, flirty, exhilaratingly goofy" performance of Jamie Lee Curtis. "Still a gifted comedienne after years in commercial purgatory," Curtis shows off her gift for "splayed physical comedy": "She may be playing a woman who is inhabited by her daughter," raves New York's Peter Rainer, but "what comes through is an actress who, for perhaps the first time onscreen, is wholly herself." A.O. Scott goes so far as to cry "Oscar" for Curtis, who "does all the necessary slouching, grimacing and gesticulating" with a "verve and conviction that is downright breathtaking." Roger Ebert just hopes they're planning to release the DVD with dirty parts edited in: "I'd like to see what would happen with an R-rated version," he admits. (Buy tickets to Freaky Friday.)
Le Divorce (Fox Searchlight). The Onion's Scott Tobias finds this Merchant Ivory adaptation of Diane Johnson's novel too faithful to its source material. It's difficult to locate the supposedly "delightful comedy of manners" among Americans in Paris because the filmmakers cram in "the full complement of characters and subplots." The ensemble cast—which includes Naomi Watts and Kate Hudson—is so large, "you almost expect Arnold Schwarzenegger to pop up in the mix," writes the Christian Science Monitor's David Sterritt. The Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro bemoans the clunky tonal shifts: One minute we're watching a "bloody suicide attempt"; the next, a Hermes bag flies above the Paris skyline. The Dallas Observer finds the film's observations about the "new world order" overly reductive: "What we learn from their interactions is that Americans are cheap and stupid, while the French are greedy and stupid." (Buy tickets to Le Divorce.)
S.W.A.T. (Sony). Critics find this police procedural—in which Colin Farrell stars—fairly, well, procedural. Elvis Mitchell, for one, is somewhat befuddled as to why anyone wanted to remake the original '70s TV series: Despite its great "wah wah crackle" theme song, "it's not as if anyone had any huge loyalty to the psycho-of-the-week drama of the show." "One more competent but routine, midlevel ($70 million) late-summer action movie filled with the usual explosions, shootouts and male bonding," sighs the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's William Arnold; what distinguishes S.W.A.T. is a "hissable monster" of a French villain whom the heroes refer to as a "frog." But the Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan enjoys the simple pleasures: A "good-looking" cast, a "loud" soundtrack, a "stupid" plot, and LL Cool J shouting " 'Tell Daddy how you want it' while shoving an automatic weapon into a Frenchman's face." (Read David Edelstein's Slate review.) (Buy tickets to S.W.A.T.)
The Real Roseanne Show (ABC). This reality series chronicles "what must be one of the oddest of showbiz odysseys": The making of Roseanne Barr's cooking show Domestic Goddess. The director, a seasoned documentary filmmaker, emphasizes "oddity over awkwardness," writes Newsday'sDiane Werts, and as strange as Roseanne appears—she uses a "kabbalistic face reader" to choose an executive producer—"the circle gathered around her is an even more motley group." Her son and son-in-law, who serve as producers, do little more than "order pizza and engage in mock sword fights." Her first husband is handyman and his wife is her personal assistant. But the Washington Post's Tom Shales, who thinks the show has a "faintly nauseating familiarity" (think The Osbournes), gets annoyed every time Barr "squawks, screams and swears" or "carps," "crabs," and "curses." He also thinks Domestic Goddess "has Gigli written all over it."