Simon finds out HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE...

how-to-lose-friends-and-alienate-people-20081224012811749-000 Release Date: 16th March 2009 Available from Amazon priced at £9.98 Now is the time of yet another British comedians€™ invasion on Hollywood- Steve Coogan€™s still there somewhere, Sacha Baron Cohen looks set to cement his position with BRUNO, Ricky Gervais has so far hinted at some good potential, and even Russell Brand seems set for a career of some sort. So it is little surprise that Simon Pegg is defying those critics who see his collaborations with Edgar Wright (and thus by inference Nick Frost) as the be all and end all of his Hollywood career. Even I admit that RUN FATBOY RUN was some way wide of the mark, but one sick swallow does not a shitty Spring make. I for one wait with baited breath for the arrival of first STAR TREK and then PAUL, before Pegg eventually returns to the Pegg/Frost/Wright triptych to complete the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy. With the significant televisual comedy chops of Pegg (SPACED) and Robert Weide (CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM) combining you might be forgiven for expecting something more self-consciously cult seeking than HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS... And yet, despite obvious indie affiliations- the casting of Pegg and the wonderful Jeff Bridges chief among them- the film takes a different trajectory, abandoning much of Toby Young€™s actual experience in favour of slap-stick heavy gags and various visual gags. Don€™t get me wrong, Pegg can pull off slap-stick pretty well, and gathers up some serious laughs throughout the film, especially with the unfortunate spitting incident in the lift, but there is a limit to the number of prat-falls even I can take. HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS... is a really just a mongrelised composite of THE PINK PANTHER€™S physical absurdity and THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA€™s ideas of unspoken upper-class hierarchy and snobbishness in the world of the supposed high-brow magazine world. The slap-stick does help point out the absurdity of celebrity, as does Young€™s inflated sense of self and militant commitment to tearing strips off the most untouchable icons of the glitterati. What works best about the film are the moments of frankly unbelievable social idiocy that are lifted straight from Toby Young€™s best-seller- including the somewhat foolish decision to hire a stripper for a colleague on Bring Our Daughters to Work Day, proving the old adage that life is often stranger than fiction. And I have to confess that it is when the film gets a heart, and abandons Young€™s inflated ego, concocting an uplifting, change-of-heart ending that gives the character an honour that seems unlikely in even the best readings of the real Toby Young€™s life. The film sells out, preferring the smushy moment of self-realisation over a commitment to the truth: Young didn€™t sabotage his career in America because of an attack of morality- his contract wasn€™t renewed because he seemed more intent on embarrassing Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter than on creating a worthwhile body of work. That said I did enjoy the movie as a self-contained product: the laughs were a pleasant constant and the gentle satire was just enough to please (even if it could have been more pronounced), and the decision to cast Simon Pegg looks to have been an inspired choice considering the way he works with the sometimes limited material the script affords him. He has an undeniable charm that is helped enormously by his slightly quirky looks- something Ricky Gervais no doubt can sympathise with, which makes him seem the embodiment of the aspirational Everyman figure- an important idea in developing Young€™s initial alienation at Sharps. And it also gives me hope- if this odd, pretty normal-looking man with the perfectly round head can make it in the land of chiselled Brad Pitts and silver-flecked George Clooneys, maybe I should dust off those open-ended tickets to Hollywood and finally go live the dream... Without a doubt Pegg€™s Sidney Young is the focal point for the movie- some might see to too great an extent, but this is after all Young€™s movie, and anyone who has read HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE will tell you it€™s exactly what Toby Young would want (no surprise either that he couldn€™t resist the blink-and-you€™ll-miss-it cameo). But that is not to say that the surrounding cast are not excellent in flashes: Jeff Bridges in particular irrepressibly good despite his limited screen time- especially his reaction to Young€™s spectacular denouncement of celebrity at the end of the film. And his wig alone should win some kind of follicle-based Oscar. So too Megan Fox puts in a near perfect Marilyn Monroe impersonation that shows she can recognise the inherent ridiculousness of someone being put on a pedestal simply because of their exceptional breasts and million dollar face. The only slightly weak point in the cast is Kirsten Dunst, who doesn€™t always seem to commit to the role- shrugging through some of her scenes and casting off lines like they€™re leaving a bad taste in her mouth. It all makes it slightly less believable that Young would give up the opportunity for one night of eye-watering sex with Megan Fox for a presumed life-style of dour disappointment with Dunst, even if she does look beautiful. But then, there are redeeming flashes- her drunk scene opposite Pegg and Bill Paterson is a notable highlight and she does manage an effortless chemistry with Pegg that makes her occassional disinterest all the more frustrating. I still can€™t shake the idea that HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS... would have been better had Weide committed whole-heartedly to the anti-hero status of Young: a man admired and loathed in frankly alarmingly equal proportions. He is a sound bytes dream, because he was and continues to be a monumental twat, and infuriatingly for some revels in his negative charisma- not me though, I love a character who doesn€™t suffer anyone else€™s opinions regardless of how right they might be. Now, if HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS... hadn€™t felt the need to add the romantic ending (as wonderfully engaging as the outdoor cinema scene is), and not been scared to present a central character whose ignorance and irredeemable arrogance eventually become his best bizarro qualities then I might have been more gripped. Had the film been braver, and more caustic also, taking advantage of the ample opportunities for getting their teeth into the ridiculous tropes of the world of celebrity. Perhaps it was a conscious decision made in fear of making Young an irredeemable, bumbling fool and thus devaluing the credibility of the oh-so-Hollywood romantic ending- but this was a decision that also underestimated Pegg's ability to reconcile caustic satire with a genuine likeability; something I believe to be well within his limits as an actor. I can only hope Pegg€™s long-time cohort Nick Frost gets better treatment when he sails up in THE BOAT THAT ROCKED: which is looking more and more like the safe step that Pegg himself missed out on his career. At the end of the day it is not Pegg€™s acting of the role that loses points for the film - after all he has managed to bag the extraordinary twin roles of Scotty in STAR TREK and Inspector Thompson in TINTIN- it is the script€™s depiction of him and the slightly uncharacteristically sloppy direction of the usually cool Weide. Extras I am lucky enough to have been born on the lovely little rock called England- and as such was able to enjoy an inflated Extras package, featuring a gag-reel, on-set video blogs from Simon Pegg and a selection of Deleted Scenes that never made it onto the US version. To be honest, my American friends, you didn't miss a lot- the Deleted Scenes added very little to my enjoyment of the film, and consisted in large part of alternative versions of scenes rather than those painfully fraught cuts that a director must make whose inclusion on Extras often adds insight to the editing process. The video-blogs were okay, but again I wouldn't have felt wronged had they not been included, and the gag-reel is a no-brainer on any comedy film, without ever threatening to be essential viewing. The real highlight of the Extras is the commentary track by Pegg and Weide, who are both on fine comic form- although it is devalued slightly by the decision to include another commentary by Weide alone, focusing on the more informative elements of production insight. Whether this is because Pegg's influence draws Weide away from making insightful comments- preferring instead to just point out the various pictures of his pets he included in the film- is a matter for debate, but if I was Pegg I might feel a little agrieved that I wasn't included in the big-boy grown up version of the commentary.
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