October 6, 2008

REVIEW: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (B)

I had a really weird feeling about this blog at one point during How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. As Simon Pegg's character lashed out against Kirsten Dunst's character for her committed interest to celebrity news and gossip, I thought, "Wait a minute. That's kind of what I'm doing, isn't it? Writing about movie stars and supporting the business and culture of Hollywood?" Hmm...well hopefully I'm successful in digging a little bit deeper into all of these movies I see, but it was still an important reminder that so many of the words I'm writing here are completely meaningless to the advancement or progress of humankind. Not that I ever had allusions otherwise, mind you, but just remember that all the time you spend reading about movies and all the time I spend writing about them could certainly be spent doing something more productive. Like watching more movies...just kidding.

Based on the memoir by British journalist Toby Young about his five years at Vanity Fair magazine, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People has been somewhat accurately compared to The Devil Wears Prada. The difference, of course, is that the central character is an obnoxious man instead of an innocent young woman. Enter Pegg, who's star has been steadily on the rise since 2004's Shaun of the Dead, nevermind the occasional starring role in forgettable fluff like Mission Impossible III and Run Fatboy Run. Don't expect much more substance in How to Lose Friends, but do expect to witness Pegg's consistently amusing charm on display again. Like several American actors at different times in their careers (Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller among them), Pegg is becoming the go-to guy for roles that call for equal parts sleaze, raunch, and romantic charm - and a British accent. (Maybe i
t's no surprise, then, that Trekkies are concerned about the casting of Simon Pegg as Scotty in J.J. Abram's upcoming Star Trek remake).

As is the case in most of the movies in this "bawdy romantic comedy" genre, we find it hard to root for the protagonist and even harder to keep hope alive that a new twist will work its way into the formulaic story. I'll save you the suspense: no twist appears. His reputation as a troublemaker firmly established in Britain, magazine editor Sidney Young (Pegg) is hired to take a position at the fictional Sharp's Magazine in New York City. His arrival is met with disdainful disinterest by his co-workers, namely Alison Olsen (Dunst), who is alternately his mentor and main flirt, depending on the day. Sidney's bizarre behavior and off-putting attitude about magazine culture (which I described earlier) threaten his stay at Sharp's, but not before he wins over Hollywood starlet Sophie Maes (Megan Fox, Transformers) and the Big Boss Editor Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges, Iron Man).

Does any of this matter? No. How to Lose Friends is really a star-making vehicle for Simon Pegg, an attempt to expose him to Americans who still don't recognize his name. Those of us who are already fans will have a good amount of fun, but despite the bizarre tandem of Megan Fox and Kirsten Dunst (who I don't believe even exchange dialogue here), and despite the fact that it's based on a true story, something tells me the general public is not going to be drawn to a movie about a guy they've never heard of, starring a guy they've never heard of. Their loss, I suppose. We'll see what happens after Star Trek.

Trivia: the only movie in which a character is seen eating an entire sandwich from start to finish...

Although How to Lose Friends and Alienate People defies not one convention of the genre in which it firmly sits, Simon Pegg's commits himself to the role well enough to provide some really funny moments. The screenplay by Peter Straughan features some great one-liners, and director Robert Weide ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") wisely gets out of the way and allows Pegg to take center stage. It's a movie that's probably only funny the first time around, and there are few lessons to take from it that would otherwise make it worthwhile - unless you consider that whole addiction to Hollywood thing...

Writing - 8
Acting - 10
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Social Significance - 2

Total: 42/50= 84% = B


  1. Fine piece, Daniel. I've been watching Simon Pegg since "Shaun of the Dead," and like him a lot.

  2. Thanks, Rick. This is a scattered review but I think the main point is that Pegg delivers, and if that's all you're looking for, you should be satisfied.

  3. It's not scattered, this is the kind of film that deserves no more or no less that what you've given it here. I haven't seen it so I won't make any assumptions, but your writing was most engaging.

    Dan, I hope I am properly registered at that game site, I think I did everything right?!?

  4. It probably deserved even less, Sam, but thank you. It could have been a ripe satire on Hollywood culture, but either because of lazy writing or because of obligations to the source material, it ends up being a one-off empty comedy.


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