Review

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People Review

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Oct 02, 2008 | 8:51pm EDT

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.

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