24 July 2009

Movie Review: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People



B-

How To Lose Friends and Alienate People
2008, 110mins, R
Director: Robert .B. Weide
Writer (s): Peter Straughan, Toby Young (novel)
Cast includes: Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges, Megan Fox, Danny Huston, Gillian Anderson
Release Date: 3rd October 2008

Based on the 2001 memoir of the same name by British journalist Toby Young, “How To Lose Friends and Alienate People” is a film that just can’t quite decide what it wants to be. As a whole is still adds up to a reasonably entertaining way to spend a few hours but had its script been a little clearer about the movies core intentions then we might have a more balanced motion picture on our hands. At times director Robert Weide is going for “The Devil Wears Prada” style satire and that’s where the movie is at its best, however on more than a few occasions he seems more determined to craft a Rom-Com thus compromising much of the edge that the darker parody elements encourage.

Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) has been obsessed with celebrity culture all his life, determined from the youngest of ages to break into the heaven that he considers Hollywood. One day after a colorful infiltration of the BAFTA’S Sidney receives a call from Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges) the head of Sharpe’s magazine one of America’s top celebrity fuelled publications. Harding wants to give Sidney a run at a spot on the magazine which he promptly accepts, and is placed under the care of Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston) and Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst) in the magazine’s “I Spy” segment. Both take an instant dislike to his blunt and boyish style of communication but after a time he finds himself warming to Alison who at the same time is interested only in Lawrence, an entity who Sidney quickly comes to hate. To make up for this apparently lost cause he takes an interest in Sophie Maes (Megan Fox) a young and hot new actress who Sharpe’s is working hard with in order to truly kick start her career. As Sidney becomes closer to the cute but ultimately dimwitted young thespian he begins to wonder if it’s really Sophie Mae’s whose heart he wants to win.

Those looking for tons of belly laughs probably won’t be satisfied by “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”, the film opting for a far more restrained and at times subtle sense of comedy. There is a fair bit of slapstick and as might be becoming mandatory for 2008 comedy movies a clear penis shot, but that’s not the area which director Robert Weide is most interested in mining. For the first half at least the movie aims totally for the throat of the magazine world and provides a very clever window in at it, but come the second section the picture loses its teeth in favor of a rather weak heart. The idea to give the movie a romantic edge isn’t an awful one but director Robert Weide lets the last half of his movie become consumed with it, leaving both the satire and a consistent tone lying in his wake.


The cast are all as good as the character’s with which they’ve been coupled, those who aren’t written as well don’t give great performances and more fortunately the same applies Vice Versa. As Sidney Pegg is a good choice hitting the required bases in presenting a somewhat obnoxious character who is still fairly likeable. Fans of the book may be disappointed in seeing a lead man a good deal nicer than that featured in its pages but for the purposes of cinema an agreeable lead is key and so in casting Pegg, Weide has made the right choice. Kirsten Dunst’s Alison is a drab and somewhat stock character and so the actress herself comes away having given one of the films less convincing turns. To call it bad acting on Dunst’s part would be cruel, the problem is the moody and boring nature of the character rather than the actress’s ability. Faring much better is Megan Fox who gets quite possibly the two funniest moments in the movie, and definitely it’s sexiest. The role isn’t as emotionally charged as that of Alison but the Sophie character needs to bring solid comic ability and a slight sympathy, both of which Fox does with a surprising amount of ease. Her chemistry with Pegg it also has to be said is defiantly more watchable than that projected by Dunst. Jeff Bridges and Danny Huston are both solid but underused, whilst Gillian Anderson eats up the screen on any occasion when she’s on it. Overall these high profile casts have done well, and the movies faults lie in other areas.

The satirical elements easily provide the film with at least 10 good laughs and chuckles, and the easy flowing nature of the production keeps everything fairly entertaining. The movie runs at a slightly longer than usual 110 minutes but is paced in such a way that it feels more like the average 90, giving it a brisk and light feel that at least keep things on the enjoyable side of the spectrum. The film boasts a pretty cool soundtrack which is exploited as often as possible and what it must be said to fairly good effect. A nice mix of classical and modern day themes the movie is for the most part a pleasure for the ears to behold.

The key problem is the dramatic and distracting shifts in tone and ideals, one moment content to be a pure and often successful parody then the next a far less convincing and far more conventional Rom-Com. As I said above giving the film a romantic subplot isn’t a bad idea but sadly this one story strand quickly becomes the whole story, leaving behind the tale of one man’s consistent cock ups after fluking his way to the top of the ladder. The cinematography is pretty light but maybe a little bland and one might hope to see a little more visual ambition from Weide in future adventures behind the camera.

As a multiplex motion picture “How To Lose Friends And Alienate People” should work as fairly well crafted popcorn entertainment and offer up enough witty observations and laughs to be worth the price of admission. The cast is appealing and the mood lightweight and thus standard Saturday night punters will likely find it a step-up from the usual fare. The problems are all in it’s structure and the occasional weak slice of slapstick, but given the flaws the public is usually willing to put up with this shouldn’t prevent “How To Lose Friends and Alienate People” from offering up a good time.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

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