How to Lose Friends & Alienate People
2008, R, 110 min. Directed by Robert B. Weide. Starring Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges, Danny Huston, Gillian Anderson, Megan Fox.
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Oct. 10, 2008
When it was published in 2001, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, Toby Young’s memoir of his brief stint as a writer and contributing editor at Vanity Fair, was celebrated as a snarky, pitch-perfect, borderline insufferable tonic for a world gone mad on celebrity addiction. It was full of indulgent anecdotes and scathing broadsides directed at the world VF Editor Graydon Carter had perfected: the soul-sucking, spirit-crushing realm of celebrity journalism, where substance is insignificant next to style and where the desire to be liked by famous people (or even to be mistaken for one, if one is lucky) supersedes those sillier journalistic virtues such as objectivity, dispassion, and integrity. No one was safe from Young’s withering, ironic attacks: not Carter, not New York tastemakers such as Sex and the City writer Candace Bushnell, not even Young himself, who came off as the cleverest and most self-destructive of all jackasses, a true literary and cultural hero for the 21st century, simultaneously flaying and celebrating himself for his and our enjoyment. Unfortunately the film version of Young’s book is more slapstick than skewer, more loving portrait than leveling blow, more Billy Crystal at Katz’s than George S. Kaufman at the Algonquin Hotel. Where Young’s book was a slap in the face, this movie is a kick on the backside, all hokey humor and quaint lovability, which is surprising, considering the film stars the mind (and bulging eyes) behind Shaun of the Dead, Pegg, and is directed by Weide, who helped drag comedy to new depths of corrosive elegance on Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Surely those two could have managed more than this tone-deaf ode to comedic obviousness, right? After all, satire about a self-destructive Freudian head case longing to destroy celebrities while wanting nothing more than to become one, and somehow managing to climb the ladder of success despite the fact that no one anywhere seems to like him, deserves the best work of the subtlest comic minds we have, not the romantic-comedy corn, average wordplay (“He has hidden shallows,” Young mewls at one point about a slimy superior), and family-friendly boorishness Weide and Pegg have resigned themselves and us to with this utterly mediocre piece of nothing. Reducing controversy to mere irritation is a particularly shameful kind of sin, and I hope Young is upset by this adaptation. But, if his book is any indication, he’s probably too busy bathing in the reflected glow of his new Hollywood celebrity to care about something as silly as quality or – God forbid – accuracy.