How does such a proven genre-deflater as Simon Pegg fall into such conventional quicksand? Pegg undid the undead in the zombie film parody Shaun of the Dead. He uncuffed the cop action blowout in Hot Fuzz. So what happens when he tries to de-celebrate the celebrity culture in How to Lose Friends and Alienate People? Nothing quite so deflating. Which is deflating for the audience.
While it has its moments, the film never lives up to the quality of its absolutely awesome title, taken from a 2001 autobiography by Toby Young, in which the author records his inglorious stint as a Vanity Fair writer. His stand-in, Pegg’s Sidney Young, runs a shrimpy British magazine obnoxiously poking fun at the powerful, mainly to get them to notice him.
When they run a naked cover photo of Sharps Magazine editor Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges) Sidney expects a lawsuit. Instead he gets a job offer in New York. Starting on the lowest rung, Sidney simultaneously wants to undress the celebrity culture and get into its pants. His outlandish tactics – singing drunken English football songs at lawn parties, bringing a lap dancer to work on Take Your Daughters to Work Day, asking actors straight-up if they are gay, or Jewish—aim to puncture the cozy celebrity magazine culture and break the unwritten rules of celebrity journalism.
His act wears out his treacherous boss Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston), befuddles his co-worker and unlikely love interest Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst), and frustrates PR cutthroat Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson), who controls access to the largest stable of celebrities, including the luscious rising star Sophie Maes (Megan Fox), who likes strolling through pools fully clothed.
Sidney’s efforts to seduce Sophie end with his own seduction by the world he claims to despise. This should be fertile ground for comedy and theme, and sometimes it is, but it is left less developed than it could be. Unfortunately, the film also gets seduced by the worn staples of the romantic comedy. It’s when Dunst stops bashing the screw-up newcomer and the magic movie dust sprinkles love into the air that the film becomes less interesting.
And what do all these characters think about this uncouth intruder in their glossy-paged palace? It would be interesting to get a better feel from a strong cast. Bridges thrives in a rear-back-and-pitch-zingers kind of role. Squeezing Agent-Scully iciness for all its malicious potential, Anderson pads her status as the World’s Most Famous Underused Actress. When she rolls up a car window, watch your fingers. Can Megan Fox act? I don’t know. But she can pass as an ingénue and object of desire. You suspect that the talented Pegg will eventually break through here. But he’s going to need better material.
He would do well to pay attention to Sidney’s fate.