How to Lose Friends & Alienate People Lacks Punch
- 2009 20 Feb
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.”
Sounds like a fabulous character, right? Not here. Pegg will make you crack a couple of smiles but, for the most part, his character is incredibly offensive, without much to redeem himself, save the fact that he falls in love. He appears to be an idiot as well—one who doesn’t just try and pick up every girl he meets, but who also fails to understand that it’s inappropriate to wear a vulgar t-shirt to work at an upscale publication. It’s one of a long string of sexually-explicit scenes (with language and alcohol and drug consumption to match) that appears to be catering to men’s most basic instincts. Clearly, they’re going after the male teenage demographic that will supposedly make or break a film. Big mistake.
Pegg is also a problem. He lacks the charisma to play a lead who falls in love, much less one that becomes likeable. Despite the screenwriter’s best attempts, Young just isn’t a nice guy. He’s revolting. And the lack of chemistry between him and Dunst make things even worse. Pegg used to be hilarious. Now, he’s simply annoying. Dunst, for her part, is as bland as ever. Sporting a wig, Bridges has some good lines and shows he’s still up for a good role—though this one, sadly, isn’t.
Essentially, the film is one missed opportunity after another. The problem, in addition to its British humor, which doesn’t always translate across the pond, is that everything has been tampered with too much. The bite is gone, the “revelations” are cliché and the non-stop attempts at humor fall flat. It’s almost as if Hollywood got ahold of this film first. Wait. It did.
There’s no message here, save the usual one about true love solving all our problems and guiding all of our life’s decisions, if only we’ll let it. Otherwise, this film isn’t Devil Wears Prada on steroids, as its trailer suggests. It’s Devil on ‘shrooms—with a very bad hangover.
- Director’s commentary
- Drugs/Alcohol: Characters consume alcohol and smoke throughout film; a woman becomes extremely drunk and behaves badly; characters discuss and/or use illegal drugs (primarily cocaine) in several scenes, with humorous results. Cocaine is a focal point of one scene, with a key plot point revolving around its purchase and use. In another, a character uses drugs and acts extremely inappropriately, embarrassing himself in the process, yet no one thinks anything of it.
- Language/Profanity: Numerous profanities and obscenities, some strong, and some crude, throughout film.
- Sex/Nudity: Strong. Upper female nudity and rear nudity in an extended scene involving a stripper at an office, which children view; a man takes a women home for the night and discovers that she is a man; male characters discuss/attempt sexual conquests, often using crude terms, in several scenes; one character is having an affair with another, while sleeping with other women as well. A man wears a tee-shirt to work with an extremely crude slogan about bodily fluids; a scantily-clad woman dives into a swimming pool at a party then gets out, focusing attention (including many photographers) on her wet, clinging clothing; several scenes involving extremely low-cut dresses/tops, with the camera and/or character’s eyes lingering on them;
- Violence: Mostly pratfalls and mild violence, such as a female character kicking a male one.