Based on Toby Young’s 2001 memoir of the same name How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is perhaps this year’s most refreshing comic surprise especially since we had no expectations that a book like this could ever be made into a successful movie much less a romantic comedy. The film like the book charts Young’s (now renamed Sidney and played by Simon Pegg) move from London to New York to become a contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine (now called Sharps). The movie’s plotline details the absolute knack this guy has for saying just the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sidney finds he is in way over his head but the magazine’s owner Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges) discovers something in him worth keeping. Since Young had written the counter-cultural polar opposite type of material in England it’s odd that he suddenly is thrust into the world of American celebrity where he manages to befriend and become a confidante of Hollywood starlet Sophie Maes (Megan Fox) and strike up a romantic interest in co-worker Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst). We watch as Sidney balances his new professional and personal life living precariously on the edge of imminent disaster in both. Pegg somehow sets up this loser (at least initially) for audience sympathy. It’s no small achievement but he’s alternately obnoxious and endearing--just the way we love to see him. Sidney manages to insult just about everyone with his complete social ineptness yet Pegg never sails off the edge and keeps him grounded comedically. You can imagine what might have happened had someone like Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler gotten their hands on this script. Pegg is almost a throwback to the Chaplin era a comic buffoon with heart we can’t help but like. In fact the whole cast is terrific. Dunst can be annoying but not this time. She’s absolutely winning and the perfect foil for Pegg. Their budding romance is believable even though on the surface they couldn’t be more different. Bridges with long graying hair does his best Graydon Carter impression as the sly owner of the glossy gossip magazine. The stunning Fox lives up to her name and she happens to be very funny too as a vapid starlet obsessed with creating an image. The main cast is rounded out by Danny Huston as Young’s immediate boss and Gillian Anderson delicious as the grand dame of PR in New York. Robert Weide won an Emmy directed HBO’s hilarious sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm which he shepherded for five seasons. Certainly if he can handle Larry David’s almost entirely improvised style of comedy he’s a cinch to make this thing sing--and he does in style. At every step of the way this is the kind of movie that could have gone broadly overboard but sticks smartly and faithfully to character instead. Sure there are missteps but mostly it all goes down like a fine glass of chardonnay. The movie shot largely in London--which doubled for New York in many scenes--looks great and the superb cast is clearly in the hands of a man who knows his way around a nifty comic premise. There’s even a running homage to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita that cineastes are gonna love particularly a scene at a celebrity party where Fox gets the paparazzi’s attention by walking fully clothed across a shallow pool. Weide cleverly scores it with Nino Rota’s gorgeous Dolce Vita theme a wry moment in a fun movie worth checking out.
September 25, 2004 11:24am EST
Shaun (Simon Pegg) is an ambitionless electronics salesman whose idea of grabbing life by the throat is chugging beer at the local pub the Winchester. After three years Shaun's ennui starts to grate on his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) who presents the 29-year-old slacker with an ultimatum: Set some goals or get ready for the single life. Of course it isn't long before Liz dumps lazybones Shaun who drowns his sorrows in a pint of cold ale at--where else? The Winchester of course along with his out-of-shape and equally lethargic buddy Ed (Nick Frost). What Shaun and Ed are too wasted to realize however is that the good people of London are turning into zombies all around them. When Shaun is almost bitten by a strange pale lady lurking in his garden he realizes something's up--namely that the dead have risen and are feasting on the living. A newly-inspired Shaun springs into action and comes up with the perfect plan to thwart the undead. With the help of Ed he rounds up Liz her roommates his mom and stepfather and takes them to his idea of a safe haven: The Winchester!
As Shaun Pegg who had a small roles in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and the comedy 24 Hour Party People is quite endearing. Although he's shiftless Shaun is someone everyone can relate to--stuck in a comfort zone with no plan to change in his life. But Pegg brings some complexity to the character giving Shaun a sympathetic edge. Of course the film tends to overplay the sympathy card complete with shots of Shaun's fake tears after he splits with Liz. But in the end Shaun is not the lazy loser Liz and her friends all thought he was--just an easy-going guy who enjoys the simpler things in life. Ashfield who has starred in several British feature films is also impressive as Shaun's disapproving girlfriend. The on-screen chemistry between the two stars is surprisingly sweet and almost too down to earth for a parody; sure it's silly at times but incredibly believable. Frost meanwhile nails the sidekick role of Ed--a character you'll first despise but eventually grow to almost love.
In vein of his 1995 spaghetti Western spoof A Fistful of Fingers writer/director Edgar Wright uses his parodying skills once again for his second feature Shaun of the Dead--this time lampooning George Romero's 1978 zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. Like Romero whose zombie films take a satirical look at American counterculture of the late 60s Wright's Shaun takes aim at the dreadful idleness plaguing the underachieving Gen-Xers. The film's first 30 minutes are undoubtedly its best as Shaun and other young Londoners mechanically go through the motions of life without ever taking the time to smell the proverbial roses; they schlep to work traipse to the pub and slump into bed never fully appreciating their lives. While anticipating the imminent onslaught of zombies Wright takes pleasure in blurring the lines between the undead and the just plain lethargic. But the film loses its focus once Shaun's character takes a heroic turn and we are forced to endure several poignant moments with his mom and stepdad. Remember Shaun is suppose to be a zombie satire not a Lifetime movie of the week.