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How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People


Starring Simon Pegg, Kirstin Dunst, Megan Fox, Jeff Bridges, Danny Huston, Gillian Anderson, Max Minghella, Margo Stilley, Kimberly Magness, Eliezer Meyer and Thandie Newton.

Screenplay by Peter Straughan.

Directed by Robert B. Weide.

Distributed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer.  110 minutes.  Rated R.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People has a clever title (a play on the famous self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie).  It is loosely based on a memoir of the same name by British journalist Toby Young – who went from publisher of a snarky low-level entertainment ‘zine to a job at the venerable magazine Vanity Fair, where he promptly crashed and burned.

In the movie, Toby’s name has been changed to Simon and Vanity Fair has become Sharp’s Magazine.  (Names changed to protect the guilty?)  However, the basics are still there – smalltime Brit journo comes to the US in order to make his way into the inner circle of show business – only to find when he gets there that it is kind of shallow.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is The Devil Wears Prada for film geeks.

Since I also occupy this world – though admittedly on a much lower level – I know that much of what happens in the movie is bull.  Journalists – even the higher level ones – do not accompany actresses on the red carpet.  They are behind the barricades yelling out questions.  Writers do not get invited to private parties in a star’s hotel room.  They are not offered sex by their interview subjects.

However, even though it is completely unrealistic, I did enjoy How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.

British comic Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) plays Young – a cynical, snarky, totally anti-elitist film writer (he seriously argues with film professionals that Con Air was the best film ever).  After a rather strained set of circumstances with a black-tie party and a pig, Young is somehow offered a shot to write for one of the most respected journals in the world.

He’s honestly more than a bit of a wanker – the kind of guy who would go to the first day in his dream job dressed in a t-shirt which reads “Young, dumb and full of come.”  He’s the kind of guy who would get high and dance and sing on the roof at his boss’ party.  He’s the kind of guy who would order up a transsexual stripper for his editor, never taking the time to find out that it is take-your-daughter-to-work day.

We never know quite why his boss (a gruff-but-charming Jeff Bridges) hired him or why he keeps Young around, though it is suggested that Young reminds him of his own younger days at a counter-culture magazine.

Young refuses to play the game, not willing to work with a frosty publicist (Gillian Anderson) to do puff pieces on her clients – even though the more pointed stories he is writing do not get published.  He also gets a major crush on a beautiful-but-shallow young actress (Megan Fox) who has a buzz role in a cheesy-looking biopic exploring Mother Teresa’s youthful romantic indiscretion.

The only friend he has at the magazine is a cute editor (Kirstin Dunst) – who hated Simon on first meeting, too, but eventually (and perhaps a bit too suddenly) starts to see the good in the man.

Will he give in and become part of the glitterati?  Will he abandon his ideals for a shot to get into the ingénue’s pants?  Will he ever notice that the lady editor is not only adorable but respects him artistically and doesn’t make him do a piggy dance?

It’s not overly surprising, but that’s okay.  How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is a mostly enjoyable workplace romance and worth the trip.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: February 13, 2009.

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