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With: Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Megan Fox, Jeff Bridges, Gillian Anderson, Danny Huston, Thandie Newton, Miriam Margolyes, Max Minghella, Bill Paterson
Written by: Peter Straughan, based on a memoir by Toby Young
Directed by: Robert B. Weide
MPAA Rating: R for language, some graphic nudity and brief drug material
Running Time: 110
Date: 10/03/2008

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Star Wreck

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Journalists are very often the last line of defense between movies/celebrities and the public. So when a movie like How to Lose Friends & Alienate People -- about an entertainment journalist who must decide between truth and hype -- comes along, it veers dangerously close to home. Nonetheless, the film never quite relieves itself where it eats; it's funny enough to wear down even insiders.

Simon Pegg stars as Sidney Young, a scrappy British journalist who likes to poke holes in celebrity culture with his tiny rag, the Post Modern Review. One such story gets him invited to join the staff of a big time New York magazine, Sharps, run by hardass Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges). Once there, he becomes obsessed with sleeping with rising starlet Sophie Maes (Megan Fox), while slowly, unexpectedly falling in love with his more humble co-worker, Alison (Kirsten Dunst). (Alison's favorite movie is La Dolce Vita, a huge influence on this one.) A crafty publicist ("I don't like that word") played by Gillian Anderson expects Sidney to play ball and write clean, career-boosting stories, but he bungles that as well as every other scheme he tries; he even manages to accidentally kill Sophie's little dog!

Working from British journalist Toby Young's memoir, director Robert B. Weide (of the excellent, Oscar-nominated documentary Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth) has made an American film, but with a British sensibility; he layers good, broad, dry jokes onto the bones of a traditional Hollywood plot arc. And Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) proves himself an adept leading funnyman. Here, he's more concerned with nailing the laughs than building a character, but perhaps that's for the better since Simon, after all, is supposed to lose friends and alienate people.

The highly skilled supporters work wonders as well, notably Bridges, the wonderful Dunst, with her usual hint of heartbreaking sadness, Danny Huston as a sleazy junior editor, and haughty Anderson. Fox is still just a pretty face, but she manages a brilliant parody of a flighty, fickle actress (at least we hope it's a parody). Her appearance in a bad trailer for a Mother Teresa biopic recalls the much cleverer and more pointed Tropic Thunder, but this movie has a sweetness that comes only outside the velvet ropes.

DVD Details: MGM's 2009 DVD includes two audio commentary tracks, one with Weide alone, and one with Weide and Pegg (considerably funnier). There's also an 18-minute making-of featurette and various trailers.

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