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How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Movie title: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2008)
Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: R
Summation: A small-time British journalist struggles to fit in at a High-profile celebrity-based magazine in New York.
Spoilers ahead: No

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How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is a fence-straddling flick that never quite finds its style. It dabbles wildly between romance and comedy, but never safely lands on either side. It is remotely funny, but not funny enough for most of us to go out of our ways to see. The movie is based on a memoir “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” by Toby Young, on the British journalist’s moving to New York to work for Vanity Fair. British audiences might really dig this, but not so in the United States.

Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) is a small-time journalist who runs a humdrum paper from out of his apartment. More than anything, he wants to live the high life of interviewing A-list celebrities and being invited to the awards shows that he has been embarrassingly kicked out of so many times before. He finally gets his chance when he is hired on by Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges) with the larger-than-life celebrity-focused Sharp Magazine.

Sidney’s journey from wet-behind-the-ears reporter to star-following celebrity tag-along is one of self-discovery. He seeks to find himself as a journalist, but he also seeks to find love. The film has great appeal in the development of the unlikely impassioning friendship between Sidney Young and fellow journalist Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst). Pegg and Dunst both play their parts exceptionally well, and Pegg’s comically accommodating face makes him visibly fitted for his role at every turn.

A subplot regarding the strained relationship between Sidney and his philosopher father is never developed. It is not dealt with beyond being granted a few fleeting moments in the plot, and then abandoned. The English-style humor we are presented with is slapstick, but more awkward than it is funny; being responsible for setting a precious novel on fire, and killing a cute dog tend to work against the grain of good comedies, not for them. And I don’t know if I’d call accidentally walking out of fire escape doors funny, do you?

Sidney is a goofy character, another Bean for the most part, but with intelligence. He’s high functioning, but always the odd one out anywhere he goes. He thinks too highly of himself, and to show for it, he’s lonely. He loves to knock down others who think too much of themselves – and he’s able to do it effectively – never fearing the repercussions. But the Sidney going into high-profile journalism is different from the one who’s been there a while and had time to evaluate what he wants.

Will Sidney get his fill in life working to coddle the ridiculous rich and flighty famous, or will it beat his dignity out of him? Will his passion and brutally offensive insights give way to a doormat-ish walk-over-able personality that he finds is getting him far in the celebrity-fawning world? Does he really want that? Does Alison want to continue on getting photos of high-priced idiotica, or does she want to develop her novel? Think self-discovery! Think The Devil Wears Prada!

The film’s sarcastic tone does make it watch-able. The snooty, sassy, self-serving characters of the cut-throat entertainment industry keep an attractive tension and that gives the plot more steam. If you’re in the mood for a dry, passive-aggressive relationship movie with at best lagging comedy, this might float your boat. The movie has class (and truth), but to most of us, will seem rather inane.

(JH)

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Director: Robert B. Weide
Starring: Kirsten Dunst “Alison Olsen,” Simon Pegg “Sidney Young,” Janette Scott “Mrs. Young,” Megan Fox “Sophie Maes,” Gillian Anderson “Eleanor Johnson,” Jeff Bridges “Clayton Harding,” Miquel Brown “Clayton's Assistant,” Miriam Margolyes “Mrs. Kowalski”
Genre: Comedy

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