How to Lose Friends & Alienate People
February 27, 2009
Robert Weide is best known for his work on brilliant HBO sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm. How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (2008) is his feature film directorial debut where he tries to bring some of the misanthropic magic from that television show to the big screen. Based loosely on Toby Young’s memoir, reportedly about his experiences working for Vanity Fair magazine, How to Lose Friends satirizes the glossy world of celebrities and those that travel in their orbit.
Sidney Young (Pegg) is a wannabe, a struggling journalist for British alternative weekly Post Modern Review. He dreams of writing for top flight magazines doing profiles of A-list celebrities and in the process bedding many beautiful women. After unsuccessfully crashing a party hosted by the glossy Sharps magazine, he gets a call from its editor-in-chief Clayton Harding (Bridges) who offers Sidney a job in their New York City office.
The film shifts briefly into a typical fish-out-of-water story as Sidney quickly acclimatizes himself to America and the world of high-end journalism. He seems clueless about the most basic things in the business that one could easily learn from a few minutes spent on Google. It just doesn’t seem believable that he would ever get a shot at a magazine like Sharps. Once he goes to work for the periodical, How to Lose Friends becomes a male version of The Devil Wears Prada (2006) with Jeff Bridges’ character a pale imitation of the tough boss that Meryl Streep played in that film, right down to the same gray-white hairdo. Whereas Prada was a thinly-veiled take on Vogue, this film is based on the inner workings of Vanity Fair. There’s even an overt (and lame) reference to Prada at one point.
Sidney is not an easy character to like and root for, which I guess is kinda the point of the film. He’s arrogant, unfunny and obnoxious. However, as jaded as he is, Sidney can’t help but be dazzled by the neon glitz of Times Square. He also crosses paths with a fellow staffer named Alison Olsen (Dunst) who takes an instant dislike to him for the aforementioned odious attributes. The film tries to develop a love/hate relationship between them that is the bread and butter of romantic comedies but unfortunately Simon Pegg and Kirsten Dunst have zero chemistry together. There is really nothing attractive about Sidney and so you can’t see why a smart woman like Alison would ever give him the time of day.
How to Lose Friends tries to skewer the superficial aspects of celebrity and the people who write about them with characters like the self-absorbed young, up and coming filmmaker and the beautiful but dumb starlet (Fox). Ultimately, we don’t care about any of these people (except maybe Alison – thanks to Dunst’s sympathetic portrayal) or what happens to them. Pegg and the rest of the cast do the best with what they’ve got to work with which ain’t much. Pegg is a talented comedian that continues to have little to no success with films not directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) and co-starring Nick Frost. Weide’s direction is just fine but it’s the screenplay that lets him down. How to Lose Friends is a missed opportunity and one would be better off watching a film like The Devil Wears Prada or a film like Robert Altman’s The Player (1992), which does a much better job of satirizing the nature of celebrity.
There is an audio commentary by director Robert Weide and actor Simon Pegg. They spend the first few minutes exchanging idle chit-chat and making rather obvious observations. From there they go on to tell a few lame jokes and tell dull filming anecdotes. Amazingly, this commentary is actually less entertaining than the film.
Things pick up somewhat on Weide’s solo track as he speaks admiringly about the script and how he wanted to do it for his feature film debut. Weide points out how certain shots were achieved and explains some of the choices he made about various aspects of the film. This is actually a fairly informative track.
Finally, there is a “Making of Featurette” that is fairly standard promotional stuff. We find out that the film was based on a memoir by Toby Young and Weide talks about how the screenplay deviated from the source material. It sounds like very little of it survived the filmmaking process, which begs the question why use it in the first place? The film’s producer says that they wanted to make a fun film and judging from the final product they weren’t too successful.