How to Lose Friends & Alienate People review, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People DVD review
Starring
Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Megan Fox, Jeff Bridges, Danny Huston
Director
Robert B. Weide
How to Lose Friends
& Alienate People

Reviewed by Jason Zingale

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T
he idea that success only comes with a sacrifice of one’s values isn’t exactly groundbreaking material, but it’s rarely been presented as humorously as in “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People,” the big screen adaptation of Toby Young’s best-selling memoir of the same name. A British journalist who came to the U.S. after being recruited by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, Young went on to document his five-year tenure at the magazine, exposing it for its political and superficial business tactics. The film feels like the CliffsNotes version of that experience and is about as vanilla as romantic comedies get, but despite its minor faults, it still flourishes thanks to a great cast led by Simon Pegg.

The names may have changed, but the story is still the same. Pegg stars as Sidney Young, the editor of a snarky culture magazine called the Post-Modern Post. He’s the kind of guy who makes a living crashing parties and digging up dirt on celebrities, but when he gets booted from a post-awards show shindig (by Clint Eastwood, no less), he earns the attention of prestigious magazine editor Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), who offers him a gig at his equally prestigious publication located in New York. Sidney arrives with high expectations, but as he soon discovers, he's not exactly primed for success. Only Allison (Kirsten Dunst), a fellow office grunt with ambitions of finishing her novel, appreciates Sidney's dedication to play it straight, while their boss Lawrence (Danny Huston) is too busy competing with domineering publicist Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson) for the Biggest Prick of the Year award to even take notice. When Sidney is given the chance to get close to up-and-coming actress Sophie Maes (Megan Fox) to write a fluff piece on her for the magazine, however, he must decide whether abandoning his strong morals for the celebrity lifestyle is worth it.

In the hands of anyone other than Simon Pegg, Sidney Young might have come off as a bit of an asshole, but Pegg’s never-ending supply of charisma keeps the audience rooting for him, even when he’s making some pretty unsavory decisions. The spot-on casting doesn't end there, either. Kirsten Dunst is, well, Kirsten Dunst, but between veterans like Jeff Bridges, Danny Huston and Gillian Anderson, there’s plenty of scene-stealing to be passed around. Bridges may only be onscreen a handful of times, but he absolutely nails the role of the magazine's editor-in-chief.

Even Megan Fox has some fun as the ditzy starlet, but whether or not she can actually act is a discussion for another day. She does a great job with what very little she’s given to do here, but it’s hard to determine if it’s Fox herself that’s funny, or rather the idea of the actress playing such a character. The fact that Sophie Maes has been nominated for her performance as a young Mother Theresa in the film within the film suggests the latter, but if Scarlett Johansson can coast by on her looks alone, then there's no reason why Fox shouldn't be able to do the same.

Though most people won’t have read the book before seeing the film, you’ll definitely want to the minute you leave the theater. The movie version is a biting behind-the-scenes look at celebrities and the magazines that cater to them, but it’s little more than a tease. There’s no way any studio was ever going to adapt Toby Young's book exactly as it was written, and though it's a bit surprising that it's been made into a straight-up comedy rather than something a little darker (it is, after all, called How to Lose Friends & Alienate People), it works remarkably well. Similar to “Ghost Town” in that the further along the story gets, the more formulaic it becomes, “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” is far from perfect, but it does just enough to win you over early on that its charm never wears off. Think of it as the male equivalent of “The Devil Wears Prada" – minus a cranky Meryl Streep, of course.


Single-Disc DVD Review:

Don’t blame the makers of “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” for its lackluster DVD release. According to director Robert Weide, it’s the studio’s fault, which somehow managed to exclude several extras (including deleted scenes, a gag reel and video diaries) that can be found on the Region 2 version. The bonus material that does appear is decent (though you probably won’t listen to both audio commentaries featuring Weide when the one he recorded with Simon Pegg is better), but it’s still a bummer for fans looking forward to the single-disc effort. Take Weide’s advice and go buy a region-free player so you can watch the superior U.K. release. That, or hold out for the postponed Blu-ray, which might right MGM's wrong.

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