How to Lose Friends & Alienate People Lacks Punch
- Friday, February 20, 2009
DVD Release Date: February 17, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: October 3, 2008
Rating: R (for language, some graphic nudity and brief drug material)
Run Time: 110 min.
Director: Robert Weide
Actors: Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Danny Huston, Jeff Bridges, Megan Fox, Gillian Anderson
There is something about Conde Nast’s publications—and editors—that prompts their writers to retaliate. After The Devil Wears Prada, 2006’s thinly-veiled stab at Vogue’s Anna Wintour, comes this film, which skewers Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter. Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly as good. And Devil wasn’t good.
Based on the 2001 memoir of the same name by Toby Young, a young Brit who wrote for Vanity Fair, the film details its protagonist’s transformation from snarky to sycophant. The memoir reportedly does this very well, spilling the beans on everything from self-obsessed stars and Machiavellian publicists to sold-out journalists. Certainly, there is plenty to skewer. Hitler could have learned a few tricks from Hollywood publicists, when it comes to controlling the press. But here, all the material has been dumbed down, Hollywood-style, to a slapstick comedy/rom com without any punch.
The film’s lead character, Sidney Young (Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead), is a despicable guy. Like the real Young, he’s a sexually-obsessed, offensive buffoon who lacks even a toddler’s manners. Surprisingly, he hails from British aristocracy, too (although we don’t find this out until later in the film, in the director’s failed attempt to make us like him). Young is lured to New York by Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), the eccentric editor of Sharpe’s magazine, after Harding experiences a fit of nostalgia for his pre-Hollywood sell-out days, when he, too, edited a rag that mocked the stars. Now, he bows to them—even as he laments what he has become, and what has made him oh-so wealthy.
Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst) is Pegg’s love interest, although neither realize this until late in the film. Despite his best intentions, Young has become obsessed with the starlet du jour, Sophie Maes (Megan Fox, Transformers). Soon, despite his best attempts at ethics, he is kowtowing to publicists like Eleanor (a hilarious, unrecognizable Gillian Anderson), who insist on “copy approval” for everything written about their stars.
Not surprisingly, Young soon finds that Hollywood and the magazines that cater to it aren’t everything they’re cracked up to be. And that’s an understatement.
Young’s book is, by all accounts, a good one. It details the reality behind the curtain—and the page—and makes for a very interesting read. Film critic Roger Ebert has followed Young’s career for years, and describes him this way:
“(Young) is the son of a baron, could legally call himself "the Honorable," studied at Oxford, Harvard and Cambridge, went on to become Britain's favorite drunk since Jeffrey Bernard and was described by Private Eye magazine as looking like "a peeled quail's egg dipped in celery salt." He has starred in West End comedies, one based on his book. He is a very funny writer, often providing inspiring material for himself. His father, a sociologist, created the term "meritocracy." The son defined "demeritocracy." He's the kind of man you might enjoy having dinner with, but you wouldn't risk staying for dessert.”
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