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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

How To Lose Friends and Alienate People

How To Lose Friends and Alienate People sounds like what most people who read this column would believe it ought to really be called since for the last three years the only mail I’ve received has been hate mail telling me I will burn in hell (well, duh!) or that I am a complete nutjob (double duh!), but it’s not like I’m holding anybody’s baby by the naughty bits threatening to run it through a wood-chipper if they don’t read this every week. I’d never do that. Please. Have you ever cleaned a wood-chipper? Uh-uh, never again.

First off, I can assure you that this column would never be called
How To Lose Friends and Alienate People because I don’t have any friends, so there. Perhaps I’ve already succeeded in the ‘alienating people’ part, a lot like Sidney Young (Simon Pegg;
Run Fatboy Run), the main character of the movie of this name, now playing at the Essex Cinemas. At the beginning of the film, Sidney is living in London and working as the publisher of a sleazy tabloid magazine called Post Modern Review, which skews Hollywood stars and the world of celebrity. Then, out of nowhere, he is offered a job at the conservative New York-based Sharp magazine.

Once he makes the move to New York, easily overwhelmed Sidney quickly learns that the glamour he hoped to find in the Big Apple isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The apartment he had leased sight unseen is an eye-sore, and his landlady, Mrs. Kowalski (Miriam Margolyes; The Dukes) is like a prison guard who keeps tabs on his every movement. Then there is his job. Sharp’s editor Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges; Iron Man) makes it clear Sid is a nothing in the company and that it will take years for him to move up and make a name for himself. Clayton apparently offered Sid the job while he was drinking, a common occurrence with Clayton, and one which is responsible for most of his “unusual” creative decisions (aka mistakes). With that kind of encouragement, it’s no wonder Sidney resorts to his “old” ways from his years at the Post Modern Review to get a foot in the door with the rich and famous. It’s just that these methods have a way of backfiring and making people upset, especially when they involve a diarrhetic pig and fake moustaches.

Complicating things further are his office mate Alison Olsen (Kirsen Dunst; Spiderman 3), who goes from ice princess to slobbering drunk to BFF to who-knows-what in the course of a season,
Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston; 30 Days of Night), his lying, snobby, credit-grabbing weasel of a boss, demanding publicist to the stars Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson; The X Files: I Want to Believe), a woman who would scare wolves away with a single stare, and Bobbie Waide, Sid’s new hot and very horny girlfriend (debuting Charlotte Devaney) who has a blouse full of double Ds and a pair of panties full of penis. Just the surprise every guy wants to find after a night of hard drinking and dancing.

The toughest problem of all for Sidney is how to overcome his tarnished image to woo the girl of his dreams, an actress named Sophie Maes (Megan Fox; Transformers), who he has placed so high on a pedestal he can’t see how human she actually is, failings and all. She may play a saint on-screen, but in real life she has a taste for booze and Bolivian marching powder.

Loosely based on the Italian classic La Dolce Vita, a film that is referenced several times throughout the movie, How To Lose Friends and Alienate People really isn’t all that good as a primer for those actually looking to lose friends or alienate people. The only people Sidney actually alienates are such wretches that it is more like a healthy purging of society’s rectal cling-ons than anything else. Frankly, he is better off without all of them.

I quite like Simon Pegg and have since I first saw him in his break-out role as the lead in Shaun of
the Dead. Granted, he’d been around for some time before that and had quite a reputation in his native England as a television star, but it was his spoof on the George Romero zombie flicks that brought him to American prominence. There’s something about that twinkle in his eye and those dimples in his cheeks that always makes me think he would be perfect if cast as a leprechaun with a self-abuse “hobby” that he hides from the rest of his kin. He just seems like a naughty boy that needs to be spanked, but maybe that’s my projection. (Simon, call me). I suppose a chance to see Pegg in that type of role will be history once next summer’s epic Star Trek is finally released and he is elevated to cult god as a part of the Roddenberry legacy when he becomes the “Scotty” for a new generation.

How To Lose Friends and Alienate People is a bit of a mess of a movie, mostly because of the Helen Keller editing techniques (David Freeman; The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey) that seems to not quite know whether to make the main story about Sidney and Alison, Sidney and Sophie, Sidney and Lawrence, or Sidney and Clayton. All of the relationships are weighed evenly and scenes seem scatter-shot casually rather than thoughtfully in place, which makes for a difficult time in rooting for a favorite path for Sidney to take as he seeks his dream of being a “Hollywood insider.”

There are laughs to be mined from
How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, but it helps if you are already attuned to the British sense of humor (which means you would by now be calling it humour), a type of comedy that is much droller than what passes for American comedy today. Perhaps the closest to American broad comedy here is a bit showing young and bosomy Sophie in glimpses of her big starring role as Mother Teresa in a bio-pic that depicts the Indian nun as someone who looks more like a stripper than a Sister.

I enjoyed the movie, but you have to realize that I chuckle at the idea of buttering the steps outside of a nursing home, so you can’t count on me to tell you what to think is funny. The best I can tell you is that it is funnier than Nights in Rodanthe but not so much so as Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Unless you like laughing at doomed middle-aged romances, of course.

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