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Review

‘How to Lose Friends and Alienate People’ lacks comedic focus

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October 9, 2008

“How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” attempts to play out like a ‘gaining popularity for dummies’ user guide. Instead, it comes off as a crass, in-your-face party favor. I couldn’t help feeling slighted as I walked away, wondering how a film could top Sybil in the split personality department.

Centering around British cult-icon comedian Simon Pegg, “HtLF&AP” works from an adapted screenplay of British author Toby Young’s novel of the same title. That being said, it seems obvious that the film would borrow heavily from the dry comedic style made famous across the pond. But instead of embracing those hilariously awkward moments, taking the film in a Ricky Gervais or Wes Anderson direction, director Robert Weide attempts some form of cinematic bastarization, mashing together sly, dry comedy with humorless American slap-schtick a la Adam Sandler. The end result is something akin to a film-house Siamese twin.

British writer/publisher Sidney Young (Pegg) uses his indie pop culture magazine “Post Modern Review” to infiltrate high society in an attempt to push celebrities off their silver-spoon pedestals. Instead, Young is singled out by American media mogul Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges, in a far more fitting role than his villainous stint in “Iron Man”) to travel stateside and write for the Rolling Stone-esque publication Sharps.

Young’s particular brand of journalism adds insult to injury, winning him no friends, especially not the affections of co-worker Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst), who Young plays love/hate tag with throughout.

Adding fuel to this taciturn blaze is the innocently naive femme fatale bombshell Sophie Maes (Megan Fox), an up-and-coming Spearsian starlet who wraps Young around her finger, justifying her puppeteering by pouting “I’m drawn to sick animals.”

The cast rides the talent roller coaster all the way through. Pegg, although not a household name, has quickly amassed quite a following after smash back-to-back hits “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” But he can only carry the film so far, quickly sinking into a stale quagmire by the very presence of the cancerous Dunst. Her subpar style of whatever it is she does on screen (it certainly isn’t acting) betrays any hope the film may have for credibility.

But the real fun here is watching Fox. Her character’s lack of substance is intentional – infiltrating the ranks of Jessica Simpson as eye-candy filler – as she floats lusciously around the screen, perfectly playing the taunting temptress aware of the lustful desires she evokes. Her faux erotic Mother Teresa biopic teaser trailer is, by far, the highlight of the film.

It’s not that “HtLF&AP” is a bad film—at times it’s quite good. But it does suffer from an internal scripting schism. The bulk of the film disguises off-color, off-kilter comments on the sad state of Hollywood affairs, simultaneously mocking and satirizing an industry that has learned to embrace the Barbie image over Rosie the Riveter. Unfortunately, this brutally brilliant, poignant mock-expose of the West Coast is deluded by a poisonous slew of amateur punch lines. A film that could have contended as one of the funniest of the year is, sadly, reduced to a mere shadow of what it should have been.

three stars

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.