Toby Young is an asshole
. His memoir, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, is a self-penned documentation of the Brit writer's total lack of class and charm, following his disastrous stint at hoity-toity society magazine Vanity Fair in the late '90s. While overseas, Young systematically managed to insult, repel and repulse the celebrities he was supposed to be schmoozing, eventually getting chewed up and spat out by the Hollywood machine he so desperately craved to be a part of. It's a surprise, then, that the movie version of Young's misadventure is a relatively toothless affair; a highly-sanitised and fictionalised version of events with the edges planed off.
Part of the problem is the unadventurous casting. Simon Pegg as an affable ass? Megan Fox as a dim-bulb starlet? Jeff Bridges as a worldly mentor? Danny Huston as a snidey "dicklick"? Kirsten Dunst as the sensible-yet-sexy colleague-cum-love interest? No one is stretching here: for a film based on a bilious book that spewed forth with righteous anger, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People seems content to play it safe. What could be a cutting insight to the world of celebrity ego becomes little more than a conventional rom-com, the kind of Hollywood product Young himself so despised.
Pegg is a bright spot, displaying his leading man chops and a fine sense of comic timing despite a lack of decent material. A deadbeat with a heart, it's the kind of role he's familiar with - look no further than Run, Fat Boy, Run and Shaun Of The Dead
for proof - but he's fairly comfortable opposite seasoned pros like Bridges. Unfortunately, the character of Sidney Young isn't half as irritating as the source material would have you believe - he's more of a lovable idiot than a full-blown jerk. Pegg can play the fool without breaking a sweat, but what's really needed is a ruthless streak the kind of which the real Young apparently had in spades. (Depending on who you believe, Young was allegedly banned from the set for criticising Dunst's performance mid-scene. Now that's more like it.)
Indeed, the entire movie could have done with a little more bite. It's unclear what the message regarding celebrity is - is it worth fetishising or worthy of contempt? This is a movie sat safely on the fence. The book is full of prime material - the short but sweet interview with Nathan Lane is a classic - but Young's exploits here feel toned down and tarted up for consumption by the general public. The resulting shenanigans are relatively tame in comparison: a gratuitous cock shot aside, gate-crashing a party with a pig on a leash is about as daring as it gets. The rom-com angle between Pegg and Dunst is pushed to the fore, meaning Sidney is far too nice to love to hate.
How To Lose Friends And Alienate People is an undemanding comedy, okay for the odd chuckle but lacking in any genuine gut-laughs - only Pegg provides the funny. If you're looking for a sharper jab at Hollywood excess and celebrity culture, Tropic Thunder
is still showing and the spoof trailers are much better than the Megan Fox-fronted Mother Teresa biopic included here. What we have is a comedy that's not that great, a romance that's not that convincing and a movie that's sadly not that special. Now that's
how you lose friends and alienate people.