How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2008) dir. Robert Weide
Starring: Simon Pegg, Kirstin Dunst, Jeff Bridges, Danny Huston, Gillian Anderson
A British gossip writer desperately wants to get past the rope and into the exclusive red carpet world of celebrity journalism. An opportunity to skewer the current trend of Perez Hilton celebrity paparazzism comes off as a messy and onfocused episode of “Ugly Betty.”
Simon Pegg plays Sidney Young whom we first see narrating his own tale in aN obligatory flash-forward opening scene – that lazy, overused writer’s tool which starts with a scene in the future, and then goes back in time to show how the character got to that point in his life. The opening is Young at an awards ceremony, in a tuxedo sitting next to a gorgeous actress who just won a major award. It seems like the top of the world he desires to be in.
Flashing back...Young starts off in England doing whatever it takes to get past red carpet security and get the insider scoop for his small independent gossip newspaper. After being courted by a People Magazine-like super-rag in NYC Young makes the journey to the big apple where he immediately doesn’t fit in with the power-hungry ubermensch world of the big city. He just can’t seem to do anything right and continually makes an ass out of himself in front of his boss (Jeff Bridges). Gradually Young rises through the ranks and gets to the place we saw at the beginning of the film, at which point he has to decide whether it’s worth selling out his integrity or make it on his own terms.
Starting with the silly title the film never finds its sea legs as it feels like a series of randomly placed scenes or gags. At times it’s a satire, at times a romantic comedy, at times a juvenile slapstick farce. The list of impressive actors are great but either poorly miscast or just never mesh together – Jeff Bridges, wearing a ridiculous long grey wig, is all wrong as the bombastic Anna Wintour-type boss. And Danny Huston and Gillian Anderson in comic roles seem out of place and distracting.
A number of overextended scenes of physical comedy feel like desperate attempts to pull out cheap laughs. We even get two separate scenes involving animals - the introductory scene with a pig which Young uses to get into a movie premiere, and a lengthy bit with a little Chihuahua dog which Young accidentally kills, borrowed shamelessly from “There’s Something About Mary”.
It all makes for an extremely shallow satire of Hollywood and journalism – as shallow and superficial as the magazine Young works for. The film plays upon old clichés about ego-driven Hollywood directors, soul-sucking publicists, and the general cutthroat behaviour it takes to succeed in the industry.
A romantic comedy emerges in the third act, which is the only natural element in the film. Kirstin Dunst and Simon Pegg make a neat couple. Unfortunately it comes too late and doesn’t erase the previous two acts of meaningless chaff.
The film makes a grave error of referring to “La Dolce Vita” – Fellini’s classic about Italian Paparazzi – on a number of occasions. When your film makes reference to another better film about the same subject, it makes the difference between the two seem even larger. Go and rent the Fellini classic, or even Alexander Mackendrick’s ruthless “The Sweet Smell of Success.”
“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” is available on DVD from MGM Home Entertainment