How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2009, MGM)
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How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is a film that wants to be the type of slapstick, â€˜Râ€™-rated fare that Vince Vaughn has struck gold with, yet it also yearns to be the type of Richard Curtis breezy, romantic comedy that has made Hugh Grant a leading man. If it had stuck with the latter and dispensed with the slapstick shtick, I believe it could have been a much better movie, especially with a cast as talented and pleasant to watch as this one.
Based on Toby Youngâ€™s memoir about his short stint working at Vanity Fair, the film stars Simon Pegg as the brash Sidney, a small-time aspiring British celebrity journalist who is brought to New York by Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), who runs an upscale magazine. Sidney believes heâ€™s going to waltz into the big corporate offices and show them a thing or two. Harding puts him in his place as the new guy, telling him this is his big break and issuing a warning that heâ€™ll have to impress everyone in order to succeed. Instead, Sidney just manages to piss off everyone around him.
Sidney is relegated to a small department that covers celebrity sightings and must work for a slimy exec, portrayed by Danny Huston. (It seems that after The Constant Gardener, Huston is really becoming the go-to guy when you want someone to play a sophisticated, sleazy jerk.) Sidneyâ€™s desk is located next to a smart, pretty aspiring novelist named Alison (played with typical girl-next-door adorability by Kirsten Dunst). She and Sidney develop a love/hate relationship that you know will grow into admiration and eventually love. Unfortunately, Alison is having an affair with a married man whose identity we can see coming from a mile away.
While Alison pines for her secret lover, Sidney becomes infatuated with a rising starlet, Sophie Maes (Megan Fox). Fox is great as the airheaded/manipulative Maes, showing that she has some range beyond the typical hot babe role. Sophieâ€™s slick manager (Gillian Armstrong) arranges for Sidney to write an article about one of her other clients, a flavor-of-the-month film director. Selling out his principles for the opportunity of a featured piece in the magazine, Sidney is propelled to stardom and attains the kind of wealth and fame he always dreamed of. From that point, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People follows the tried-and-true formula of a hundred romantic comedies — until Sidney and Alison inexplicably find themselves watching La Dolce Vita in a park under the stars.
There’s nothing worth hating about How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, but as Simon Cowell might say, itâ€™s just not that memorable. Certainly the performances are enjoyable; none of the actors seem to be phoning in their roles. Pegg is quite good at pulling off both the heightened comedy and the nuanced romantic moments; he comes across as a likable character whether heâ€™s being a lout or a nice guy. His take as the idealistic, wide-eyed Brit who comes to America with dreams of becoming a big star is enjoyable. Additionally, the gradual romance that develops between him and Dunst is sweet and felt real. Her frazzled, independent take on the part is refreshing and I hope she lands more romantic comedy roles in the near future.
Unfortunately, because the film couldnâ€™t figure out what it wanted to be, it feels discombobulated. The filmmakers missed an opportunity for something special by going for the broad humor instead of focusing on the character-driven story. As I understand it, the more outrageous scenes in the film are pulled from the book, and as they’re reality-based incidents, itâ€™s odd that these slapstick moments — like getting into a swanky party using a pig and calling it â€œBabe,â€ or hiring a stripper for a supervisor when it just happens to be Bring Your Daughter to Work Day — feel so forced. Perhaps they felt obligated to include some of the bookâ€™s hijinks to reflect the title and hopefully sell movie tickets. I donâ€™t know. I do know that a couple of hours after watching How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, I forgot what it was I saw, and I doubt Iâ€™ll ever revisit the film again.