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How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (2008)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 2/17/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/22/2009

When it comes to the people involved in films, I tend to follow the careers of directors and writers more than actors. This is typically due to the fact that, with some leeway here and there, writers and directors work in the same genre or oeuvre. However, actors seem to like to jump all over the place, picking a different kind of project each time. Thus, the fact that you liked one of their films doesnít mean that youíll like all of them. This can be determined by who the actor is working with on the movies in question. Iíve really like the work of Simon Pegg in the projects which heís done with his friends Edgar Wright and Nick Frost, such as Hot Fuzz and Spaced. But, when heís gone out on his own, so to speak, in movies like Run Fatboy Run, the results havenít been as good. How will he fare in How to Lose Friends & Alienate People?

Pegg stars in How to Lose Friends & Alienate People as Sidney Young, a writer who is desperate to cover entertainment from the inside. He lives in London and edits a low-rent magazine called The Post Modern Review. After bringing thrown out of the BAFTA rewards, he gets a call from Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), the editor of Sharps magazine, who invites him to come work in New York. Young arrives in America ready to conquer high society and the entertainment industry. But, he quickly learns that his pompous and obnoxious act is not going to be accepted at Sharps. He's placed on the "I Spy" desk under Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston), a sycophant who is more interested in pleasing stars and their agents than journalism. Although Young annoys everyone, he finds a confidant in co-worker Allson Olsen (Kirsten Dunst). In the midst of all of this, Young meets an actress named Sophie Maes (Megan Fox) and is immediately smitten by her. Suddenly, despite all of the craziness happening around him, and the fact that his job may be in danger, Young decides that he will do anything to get Sophie to notice him.

I've written before about how it's impossible to review movies in a vacuum and that certainly comes into play with How to Lose Friends & Alienate People. Taken on its own, the movie isn't that bad. The movie is based on the memoirs of Toby Young, a British writer who went to work for Vanity Fair in New York and immediately pissed off everyone. The movie takes that story and plays as a fish out of water tale...where the fish isn't all that likable at first. Similar to a comedic anit-hero, Sidney is thrust at us and we, like those around him, don't know what to make of this blowhard who wears a ribald t-shirt on his first day of work. Our affection towards him doesn't grow when he become infatuated with Sophie. And yet, as played by Pegg, Sidney has a boisterous playfulness which is infectious. He may be crass and crude, but he's also funny at times. I also liked Dunst here, who, to an extent, has taken on a role which is much more dowdy than the characters which she typically plays.

And yet, as someone who loves Shaun of the Dead, I can't help but compared How to Lose Friends & Alienate People to Pegg's other work and the movie simply doesn't come close to the standard set by the films which he's made with Wright and Frost. As the movie deals with a man who was a grating maverick, it's ironic to say that it's quite pedestrian. While there are a few shocking moments in the film (most of which deal with transsexuals), there are no real surprises in the script. From the outset, most viewers will know exactly what kind of path Sidney is going to follow. The trajectory of his relationships with everyone around him -- Alison, Sophie, Maddox, Harding -- are telegraphed from the beginning, and the movie never veers far from a standard Hollywood story. I'm not familiar with Toby Young's story (and we don't learn much about him in the extras on DVD), but I doubt that he life was this "scripted".

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People may just live up to its title given how mediocre the film is. Pegg's talents don't necessarily go to waste here -- again, he makes an unlikable character likable -- but one can almost feel him holding himself back at times. The rest of the impressive cast is good, but no one really shines here. The rags to riches to starstruck story feels cliched and the schmaltzy ending doesn't fit the rest of the film. Pegg fans will certainly want to check this out, just don't expect it to be like his other movies.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People gives a fake name on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. For this review, I watched one of Fox's notorious screener discs. The image is sharp and clear, but it did show a notable amount of grain. There were no noticeable defects from the source material. The image looks slightly washed out, and the colors weren't very vibrant. Surprisingly, for a DVD, the depth was good. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track does a solid job of presenting the audio for this comedy. We get some nice stereo effects and solid surround effects during the party scenes. The in-film music sounds fine and provides solid bass effects.

The How to Lose Friends & Alienate People DVD contains three extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Robert Weide and star Simon Pegg. This is a pretty good talk, as the two joke with one another throughout the movie. While pointing out particular locations, the compliment the other actors and make fun of Pegg's performance. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY with just Weide. This is certainly an informative commentary, as Weide talks at length throughout the movie. He shares detailed, scene-specific data about the movie, giving us info on the cast, story, and production.  "Making of Featurette" (19 minutes) rises above the usual dull featurette by actually delving into the material. We get comments from the cast and filmmakers, as they discuss the making of the film. They talk about the source book and how the story of Toby Young's life was adapted for the film. Pegg is the center-piece of the segment and he's allowed to give his opinion on the director and the other actors. There's a nice amount of on-set footage, and the cast interviews are more than just soundbytes.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long