Posted by: Dr P | May 11, 2008

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

You know, there are moments in life when you build yourself up to a big moment, you’ve prepared all day and then there’s a moment of such stark disappointment when it doesn’t happen. Last week I forgot to tape the Strictly results show, and this week Big Jimm’s Monday night Rock Show isn’t on the airwaves! It’s almost traumatic.

Still, in a bid to assuage any evening boredom, let’s plough on and catch up with some film reviews. Vic and I took in Simon Pegg’s latest comedy offering “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” last week. Now you’d imagine that fulfilling the title premise is actually quite easy – use fetid cheese as a deodorant, turn into Paris Hilton, that sort of thing. The other way is to take the mickey too much … oops. The film is based on the true story of British writer Toby Young’s struggle to fit into the showbiz world at Vanity Fair, and on that level it does succeed. However …

Pegg’s character Sidney Young is the writer of a subversive celebrity magazine which pokes fun at the glitzy showbiz world. In my early 20s I ran a website which did much the same thing, and it became quite a cult hit despite its bizarre focus on the unholy trinity of WWF wrestling (particularly Stone Cold Steve Austin), Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Bury FC. You’d be amazed at the range of people who used to write in. By the end of it, I think the readership had almost reached double figures. Anyway, the point of this revelation is that I then got contacted by a larger media organisation and expanded my empire … and this is precisely what happens to Sidney in the film – he is recruited by Sharpe’s magazine, the very sort of New York-based showbiz-pandering publication he despises.

Pegg plays a slightly seedy guy on the lookout for whatever he can get – on his first night in New York, Sidney ends up with a transvestite prostitute, much to the horror of his Polish landlady, played with some charm by British thesp Miriam Margolyes. Indeed, much of the pleasure of this film comes in the minor roles – X-Files stalwart Gillian Anderson plays the agent of up and coming movie starlet Sophie Maes, constantly egging her client onto new and ridiculous heights in order to become more famous. As another aside, Megan Fox, who plays Hollywood’s rising star very well, was profiled in one of the British “Lads Mags”, Nuts or Zoo earlier this summer – there was a copy floating round our cricket club changing room and one of my team talks ended with us promising to win the game “for Megan”. Oddly enough, we got stuffed that day. I haven’t liked her since.

Sidney’s new boss, Clayton, is played by Jeff Bridges – although he is now a highly respected editor, he used to do exactly the same kind of celebrity-bashing that Sidney now does and so sees a little of himself in the Brit, hence the reason for hiring Sidney. Sidney of course was a big fan of his boss’s early writing and therefore thinks he can get away with pandering to him. Big mistake! This does however make for some great exchanges – the best scenes for my money were when Clayton was lording it over his staff. An excellent comedy turn for the former action star!

Where the movie fell flat for me was in the stuttering romance between Pegg and his leading co-star, Kirsten Dunst. Now I have to confess to being a big fan of Dunst – she was astonishing in her early work in “Interview with a Vampire” and was surprisingly good as an airhead cheerleader in “Bring it On”, which remains one of my real film guilty pleasures, but I have been less impressed with her since she joined the Spiderman franchise. Mind you, her “go get em, Tiger” line was worth the admission money there 😉 But in this film, she is surprisingly flat, and not particularly likeable. Quite why Pegg chooses to pursue her is not really fathomable, although at the start of the film, pretty much anything female would be out of his reach!

Things take an odd turn when Sidney starts to pander to the celebrities, and he quickly turns into the kind of panderer he used to despise – he falls into the trap of showbiz parties, drugs, hi-jinks with the “in crowd” and so on. However, this does mean that the movie’s ultimate payoff is all the sweeter.

This was quite a hard film to characterise. It has moments of comic genius, but much of the central story is quite flat and doesn’t deliver in the same ways as his previous offerings, “Hot Fuzz” and the marvellous “Shaun of the Dead”. Whether that is due to Hollywood influence or just Pegg resting on his laurels is unclear. If you’re a fan of Pegg, Jeff Bridges or the Hollywood scene, this is worth a view, but it doesn’t stand up as a great movie by any stretch of the imagination. Simon Pegg – you can do better!!

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