How to Lose Friends & Alienate People
Directed by Robert B. Weide
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Simon Pegg, Jeff Bridges, Danny Huston, Gillian Anderson
Release date: October 3, 2008
How to Lose Friends & Alienate People reminds me of a dog I had when I was a kid. It was this huge Great Dane that would lumber around and trip all over himself and destroy anything in the process. Anyone who saw him for the first time would be scared to death of him, but he was dumb as a bag of hammers and just a harmless. That’s pretty much where the comparison stops because I loved that dog and still have fond memories of him. On the other hand, I saw the movie late last night and can barely remember it enough to write this review.
Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) runs a British celebrity rag and makes a living pissing people off; crashing celebrity parties to get close to people more famous than him and patting himself on the back when he is successful at doing so. In his pocket he proudly keeps a laminated photo of himself in the wrong end of a Clint Eastwood headlock. He’s that guy.
For no reason that is explained with any sensibility, he is recruited by Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges) to come across the pond and work for Sharps Magazine, an upscale New York magazine with celebrity reputation. Even before his first day of work he is already trying to use his new position to get women to notice him. He hits on a girl at a bar named Alison (Kirsten Dunst). Guess where she works? That ends without mention and we’ll just say the first woman he takes home from a club doesn’t go as planned.
His first night in America is moderately funny, if not 100 percent predictable but by the time he starts working you can see exactly where it’s headed. He causes random mischief over and over again, isn’t nearly as victimized by repercussions as he should be for the stunts he pulls, plays it straight for awhile to get ahead then swings for a bit of personal vindication. It’s a grown up version of Home Alone without the holiday sentiment. Or at least without the holiday.
I have long since conceded to the fact that a majority of the movies we see during any given year will follow a clearly laid path, so to dislike a movie just because the formula is predictable is a little bit of a back-handed complaint. I can handle formula so long as the pieces that make it up shine through enough to get you passed it. There were enough reasons why How to Lose Friends & Alienate People could have been good.
Hollywood satire is always a ripe sandbox to play in if it’s done even half right and Simon Pegg has proven his British comedy reliability in the past with movies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The only thing he proved this time around is that without Edgar Wright, his manic little British-guy act isn’t nearly as heartily received. Megan Fox as Sophie Maes, a young starlet on the rise, would have been funnier if it didn’t seem like she was just playing herself. Maybe that was the point, but it was boring and obvious. Kirsten Dunst continues to prove her transparency with each passing role. As far as performances go, for as little screen time as they were allowed, Gillian Anderson as Sophie Maes’ puppeteer of a publicist and Jeff Bridges were both dead on. I’d like to imagine that both of their performances were what the rest of the cast was going for.
The reason How to Lose Friends & Alienate People fell apart was that the pieces of the machine that should have allowed it to rise above its own mediocrity simply didn’t deliver as promised. It wanted to be a scathing look at the Hollywood machine from the inside perspective of an outsider who doesn’t fit the mold. When it looked like it wasn’t getting there on concept alone it tried to incorporate the use of that famous dry British wit for added punch. But just when it started to show its teeth it played it safe instead of going for the kill just like that stupid dog I used to have. It’s too bad too, because the movie had the makings, at least in concept, of a pretty decent little comedy but like the man the movie is based on, found ways to screw it up without so much as an ounce of effort.
And there’s the rub.
*½ out of ****