Review: How To Lose Friends And Alienate People

How to lose friends and alienate people? Well, you could start by taking them to see this film, suggests Michael Armstrong

Title How To Lose Friends And Alienate People III
Director Robert D. Weide
Starring Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges, Megan Fox, Gillian Anderson
Running time 110 minutes

How to lose friends and alienate people? Well, you could start by taking them to see this film, suggests Michael Armstrong

Movie Poster

Expectation is a funny thing. There isn’t anything particularly wrong with How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, the film adaptation of journalist Toby Young’s memoir – it makes you laugh sometimes, the performances are all okay, and it hits the right sort of light and frothy tone it needs to. It’s a bit of fun. If that underwhelming summary sounds like a great way to spend ten euro, then be my guest. I, on the other hand, would rather stay in with the Spaced DVDs and remember a time when it wasn’t just okay and normal to like Simon Pegg, but pretty cool as well. Over the years, with hits such as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Mr. Pegg has ably demonstrated that the two-series-wonder that was Spaced was not just a one-off. He’s a talented comedic actor and writer but if his move to American projects is going to result in middle-of-the-road fare such as this and David Schwimmer’s Run Fat Boy Run, I’d prefer it if he stayed on this side of the Atlantic and worked with his own, much funnier material.

The film charts the unlikely rise of Toby Young at Sharps, a fictional New York fashion magazine. Toby is a prat. This peevish, insensitive and rude man is only made likeable by Pegg’s performance, which turns his flaws into the charming screw-ups of a man out of his depth. The Americans don’t get his humour, don’t rate his work and above all, don’t like him. Apart from his colleague Kirsten Dunst, that is: their relationship is the heart of the story. Jeff Bridges phones in a performance as his boss, who has long since lost his cutting edge in a sea of high society hob-nobbing and celebrity publicists, while Gillian Anderson pops up to play the queen of these star-makers. Megan Fox plays her client, a beautiful starlet on the cusp of A-list success.

Seems straightforward so far, but there’s problems. Firstly, Fox’s character switches between a stick-thin Lindsay Lohan figure and an sweet sex siren, depending on whether we’re meant to laugh at her or believe Toby’s obsession with seducing her. This whole strand of the film falls flat, as it doesn’t make sense that, surrounded by an entire company of supermodels, our hero would become so obsessed with just one that he’d screw up his entire career. The fact that the one and only character who befriends him just happens to be the beautiful Kirsten Dunst stretches the premise even further.

Believability issues aside, Pegg gamely gets himself into ever more awkward comedic situations, and is duly reprimanded again and again by his boss, but never loses his job. There are a few funny lines, a nod to The Big Lebowski, a piss-take trailer similar to those at the start of Tropic Thunder, and the whole thing is very forgivable and forgettable. Then, just at the point where they may have won some goodwill from the audience, the film takes a spectacular nosedive. Pegg and Dunst are dancing in the flat after Toby’s father turned up to point out that maybe she’s the girl for him after all, the camera zooms out from the window, pans across the leafy street and fades to black. I would have been happy had the film just ended there. I was smiling, their budding romance had been suggested but not rammed down my throat, and I didn’t really care if he made it at the magazine, because it seemed like a horrible place anyway.This isn’t Spaced, however. It isn’t okay if the lovers don’t have a climactic emotional third act, you must make it in your job, however awful it is, and moving back to your London bed-sit to live with your mates is not an option. So the film rolls out the same old rom-com dilemma you’ve seen a thousand times before, wraps up all of the storylines in about 15 minutes and leaves you feeling cheated and confused.

Worse still, the moral of the story as regards Young’s career is that selling out is the one and only way to make it in the world and that anyone who thinks otherwise is an idealistic fool. In which case, for the right price, I should tell you that How To Lose Friends and Alienate People is the funniest movie since Run Fat Boy Fun and that Simon Pegg is Back to His Brilliant Best. I should make it to the top in no time.