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How to Lose Friends & Alienate People
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by Peter Sobczynski

"How To Lose Theaters And Alienate Moviegoers"
2 stars

The good news about“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People“ is that the producers managed to get Simon Pegg, the star of such hilarious creations as “Spaced,” “Shaun of the Dead“ and “Hot Fuzz,” to star in the film. The bad news, alas, is that the producers managed to get Simon Pegg to star in the film. You see, “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” is a caustic comedy about a self-absorbed jackass who somehow gets promoted into a job that many people would kill to get and that he is spectacularly incompetent at and who then proceeds to make one idiotic blunder after a while until he burns all of his bridges, pisses off anyone who vaguely cares about him while blatantly fawning over those who have no use for him and only then realizes that he has become a schmuck of legendary proportions. This isn’t a bad idea for a film by any means but for it to succeed, the lead role has to be cast with someone willing and able to play the character as a self-centered heel with nary a trace of any redeemable qualities until the final reels when some vague glimmers of humanity begin to emerge--based on their previous work, someone like Steve Coogan or Ricky Gervais would be perfect for the part. The problem with Pegg is that he is such an enormously likable screen presence that despite his best efforts, we never believe him for a second as a hateful heel and as a result, the entire conceit of the film just kind of falls apart as it turns into the misadventures of a misunderstood dope who is never quite as annoying and hateful as the people on the screen seem to think he is and the people sitting in the audience want him to be.

Based on writer Toby Young’s brief and disastrous stint at “Vanity Fair” in the mid-1990s, Pegg plays Sidney Young, an ambitious British journalist whose professed loathing of all thing celebrity-related is somewhat compromised by his not-so-hidden desire to move among those elevated circles himself. After a stunt in which he crashes a post-BAFTAS part with the aide of a pig makes news when the four-legged swine gets the two-legged one booted out of the joint, he unexpectedly receives an offer from New York media mogul Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges) to come to America to work for his flagship magazine, Sharps. Unfortunately, from the moment he arrives clad in a vulgar T-shirt and proudly espousing his notion that “Con Air” is the single greatest film of all time, Sidney begins to screw up in so many ways--he snobbishly turns his nose down at the work given him, he alienates a powerful P.R. mogul; (Gillian Anderson) and inadvertently kills the Chihuahua belonging to her hottest client (Megan Fox), a mega-babe starlet who is about to appear in a questionable biopic about none other than Mother Teresa--that Clayton quickly begins to regret hiring the guy who once reminded him of himself at a younger age (“I had an attack of nostalgia, but it passed!”) and the only person left who is willing to help him at all is his supervisor (Kirsten Dunst), a would-be writer who is secretly dating one of the magazine’s more repellent editors (Danny Huston) but who inexplicably develops a certain fondness for the dope. Of course, Sidney hardly notices this because he is now too busy pursuing the starlet who, like all starlets, has promised to sleep with him if she wins the Best Actress award at the film’s faux-Golden Globes ceremony for her work in the Mother Teresa movie.

One of the main problems with “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” is that it never quite manages to figure out the proper tone for the material. As far as I can see, there are two ways that this story could have successfully been brought to the screen. In the first, the film could have gone for the approach used by Robert Altman in “The Player” and make everything as low-key as possible on the assumption that audiences would be hip enough about the inner workings of contemporary show business (thanks to every thing from “Access Hollywood” to “Entertainment Weekly” to DVD commentary tracks) to follow along and get the jokes. In the second, the film could have taken a much broader comedic tone in which all the characters are so vain, self-centered and loathsome that we want to see Sidney drive them up the wall with his own brand of bad behavior. However, instead of choosing either of those extreme approaches, screenwriter Peter Straughn and director Robert Weide (whose work on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” would seem to make him an ideal candidate for this project) navigate a path through the mushy middle in which none of the characters seem particularly mean or deserving of Sidney’s annoyances (save for Dunst’s rotter boyfriend, who is such a scoundrel that you can’t imagine what she sees in him in the first place) and none of the details about the worlds of publishing or show business seem at all realistic. As a result, it is so innocuous that it feels less like a movie and more like the watered-down TV sitcom adaptation that might have been made if the film had been a hit. The only aspect of the film that actually feels real is Jeff Bridges’ turn as the Graydon Carter-esque editor--he alone manages to find a balance between the broadly funny and the realistic that shows what the rest of the film might have been like if it had been handled in the same manner and as a result, it seems especially mystifying that his character pretty much disappears during the second half, just when he is needed the most.

The other big problem with “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” is that Sidney never comes across like the venal, self-centered monster that he presumably did on the printed page and in real life. Instead, as he goes to work in an obscene T-shirt and tries to parlay what little status he has into getting women into bed, he comes across as more of an idiot than anything else--so much so that you wonder why the magazine keeps him around instead of buying out his contract and shipping him back to England. Compounding the problem is the fact that about the halfway mark, the film makes the mistake of trying to humanize the character by giving us a glimpse into his family history and by letting the burgeoning relationship between him and the sweet co-worker pretty much dominate the second half. And as I said before, Simon Pegg is such a likable performer that he just doesn’t seem like the right person to play Sidney--this is a role that requires a monster and has instead been filled by a teddy bear. As a result, a film that should have provided all the gossipy glories and obsessive detail of an issue of “Vanity Fair” itself instead comes across with all the depth and detail of an uninspired “Vanity Fair” cover shoot instead--a lot of pictures of pretty stars that provide a momentary thrill but which have nothing of value to say.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17448&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/03/08 07:40:03
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User Comments

11/07/10 mr.mike Tries to be 2 different movies. Despite Pegg and Bridges , it fails. 2 stars
5/18/09 art watch it only,if you have nothing,to do. 1 stars
3/16/09 DK Cool film 4 stars
1/09/09 daveyt well, I enjoyed it. So there! 4 stars
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  03-Oct-2008 (R)
  DVD: 17-Feb-2009


  DVD: 17-Feb-2009

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Robert B. Weide

Written by
  Peter Straughan
  Toby Young

  Simon Pegg
  Megan Fox
  Kirsten Dunst
  Gillian Anderson
  Jeff Bridges

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