How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Stop wearing deodorant, eat raw garlic, don’t bathe….

Just joking. Here’s a review of a film I actually liked! Much better than Simon Pegg’s last offering, Run Fatboy Run. Though nothing has yet topped Shaun of the Dead, IMHO.

This appeared in The West Australian last month.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (M)

Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges

Directed by Robert Weide

3 stars

 

Magazines, newspapers and websites have a seemingly insatiable appetite for celebrity gossip and scandal, so following every move of the rich and famous has become an increasingly lucrative fulltime occupation for many writers and paparazzi.

Yet many entertainment writers struggle with the constant dichotomy of needing to be enough a part of the in-crowd to get the scoops but far enough out of it to do their job.

British celebrity writer Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) thinks he has found Shangri-la the night of the Apollo Awards when his companion, the dazzling but dim Sophie Maes (a sultry and pouty Megan Fox), wins best actress for her portrayal of Mother Theresa.

Sophie had previously promised Sidney she would sleep with him if she won the award. But just as it looks like Sidney is about to get everything he has ever desired, he gets a wake up call and sabotages himself.

How Sidney gets to this defining point in his personal and professional lives forms the basis of this film based on the memoir of former Vanity Fair writer Toby Young.

The inherent problem with a film like this is the average punter will probably regard it as an off-kilter romantic comedy about a journalist who seems a bit of a tosser. In fact, the romantic comedy angle was created to give a series of funny disconnected events from Toby’s life a spine.

Like his cinematic alter-ego, Toby left London with the aim of taking New York by storm but managed to get fired from Vanity Fair after alienating all the people he was supposed to write about.

In London, Sidney runs a satirical no-budget magazine called Post Modern Review from his flat above a kebab shop. Banned from the celebrity functions he loves to skewer, Sidney resorts to posing as a waiter to get into A-list gatherings.

Somehow his spirited writing catches the eye of one time rebel Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), now editor-in-chief of Sharps magazine and soon Sidney is living above a kebab shop in the Big Apple trying desperately to get published.

Problem is, Sidney discovers that the Sharps brand of celebrity journalism is more about being sycophantic than satirical. 

He quickly gets everyone offside, from slimy, well-connected senior editor Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston) to publicity queen Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson), who can’t understand why Sidney won’t accept her offer to interview a hotshot film director in exchange for editorial approval.

In Simon Pegg’s capable hands Sidney isn’t nearly as dislikeable as I was expecting and is apparently much tamer than the real Toby. He’s more of a bumbling fish out of water, wearing crude shirts, socks with sandals and confusing korma with karma.

He speaks his mind, thinks Con Air is the best film ever made and simply can’t stand all the fawning that goes on to land a celebrity scoop. In fact Sidney just about pukes when Eleanor tells him landing an interview with one of her stars equates to them “offering you some of their starlight to sell your magazine.”

Sadly that’s about as far as the film goes toward exploring the almost chicken and egg like (or some say parasitic) relationship between celebrities and media.

Despite a rocky start, fellow Sharps minion Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst) becomes Sidney’s only friend. An aspiring novelist and fellow out of towner, Alison eventually comes to understand there’s more Sidney than a case of chronic foot in mouth disease.

After one faux-pas to many, Clayton tells Sidney he’s on his last chance. But it takes a major jolt in his blossoming friendship with Alison for Sidney to abandon his principles and throw himself headlong on to the celebrity schmooze and scoop bandwagon.

Unfortunately director Robert Weide of TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm takes too long getting to the point when Sidney’s priorities change, then just as rapidly applies the handbrake to bring the film to its slightly sappy halt.

The introduction of Sidney’s famous intellectual father and revelation about his mother’s early career also come late in the piece but help explain Sidney’s motivations and make the character more sympathetic.

Hilarious scenes punctuate the film, some slapstick, others more gross-out in nature but their placement often seems disconnected from the main plot.

Filmgoers will relish those comic moments while the minority who have experienced celebrity first hand may squirm at the home truths, cringe if Sidney’s experiences trigger old memories and sigh with relief that Perth is mostly Eleanor Johnson-free.

 

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