Simon Pegg plays a British film journalist named Sydney Young who leaves his small, independent magazine in London to take a job with Sharps Magazine, the biggest and glossiest entertainment magazine on the stands. After relocating to New York City and assuming that he's been hired for his acerbic wit and honest, clever writing style, he soon finds that the magazine is really little more than a giant advertisement meant to shine the spotlight on whichever clients public relations wiz Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson) deems worthy.
After getting into disagreement after disagreement with his editor, he strikes up an uneasy friendship with co-worker Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst) as he tries to bed up and coming actress Sophie Maes (Megan Fox) and win favor with the magazine's founder, Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges). Sydney soon finds out that the only way to the top is to play the game and become the very type of writer he used to despise, but will the benefits outweigh the cost?
How To Lose Friends & Alienate People does a good job of mixing up elements of the traditional romantic comedy with the type of off the wall antics that have made Simon Pegg one of the brightest comedic actors to hit the screen in the last decade or so. His quirky intensity is fun to watch and as he did in Spaced he proves that he can handle the quieter and more romantic aspects of the material just as well as the drunken freak outs or crass screwball elements that are scattered throughout the movie. His relationship with Dunst's charmingly cute Alison is a strong backbone for the film and the script builds off of this effectively.
As much as the film is about love and romance, it's also about being true to yourself. Sure, much of the story revolves around Sydney wrestling with his feelings for Alison and his lust for the airheaded Sophie but it's also about the repercussions of selling out. Sydney's early work for the small British magazine may not have got him into parties, but it was obviously more satisfying than the glorified ad copy he winds up writing for Sharps and it's interesting how the movie toys around with the themes of integrity and being true to one's self.
Director Robert B. Weide, probably best known for his work on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, keeps the picture moving at a good pace and manages to find the right balance between sincerely sweet romance and biting, satirical comedy. While the story might be a little bit predictable and maybe a tad too sugary towards the end, Pegg is so watchable in it that this is easy to overlook. Some stand out gags (including a random, subtle elephant book joke that for some inexplicable reason had this writer in stitches), great physical comedy, clever dialogue and a catchy soundtrack all work in the film's favor but it's Pegg and Dunst who really deserve most of the credit for the film's success. Their performances are believable when they need to be and quite funny the rest of the time.
The test disc sent for review does not represent final product as it has a FOX watermark in the lower right hand corner of the picture. It's hard to evaluate the quality of what you'll be buying in stores when you can't see it. That said, the test disc looks bad. It's riddled with compression artifacts and macroblocking throughout playback. Hopefully the properly pressed DVDs look better than what has been sent out for review...
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track on this disc is pretty good. While this is a film that's primarily based around stretches of dialogue, there are definitely moments where the surround channels come to life such as the club scene or the party scene. Bass response is strong but never overpowering and the levels are nicely balanced throughout. As this is a new production it's not surprising that there are no problems with hiss or distortion and overall, while not the most aggressive mix you've ever heard, the movie sounds very good. Optional subtitles are provided in English and Spanish and French and Spanish 5.1 track are also included.
Robert Weide joins Simon Pegg for a fun commentary track that talks about how this picture came to be. They discuss writing, casting and shoot in New York City but spend a fair bit of time joking around as well. There's some good humor in here right from the start of this scene specific talk which seems to contain all manner of odd trivia about pretty much everyone involved in the production. It's one of those fun tracks that manages to be both fun and interesting. A second audio commentary finds Weide flying solo and it isn't as amusing as his collaboration with Pegg, but it too is worth a listen as it tends to be more technical than the first track and so it manages to cover a fair bit of different ground. It's a more serious discussion that delves into where some of the ideas for Sydney and a few other characters came from and that does a good job of pointint out a lot of fun little details that are peppered throughout the movie.
Aside from that, Fox has also supplied a Making Of Featurette (18:38) that allows Weide to talk about how he instantly loved the script and how a few changes were made to it before casting the picture. Pegg talks about how everyone involved simply wanted to make a fun movie while Dunst talks about how she and Pegg bonded on the set of the film while Pegg talks about what it was like working with so many people he happened to be a fan of. While it feels a little promotional in a couple of spots, there's enough of substance here that it's worth a watch.
Rounding out the extras are some trailers, animated menus, and chapter selection. It should be noted that the British DVD release of the movie set to have a considerably more impressive array of supplements than those seen on this North American release.
How To Lose Friends & Alienate People isn't rip-roaringly funny but it definitely has its moments. Simon Pegg makes for an amusing comedic leading man and his knack for comedic timing make the film enjoyable enough. This isn't a modern classic, but it's a good time at the movies and comes recommended to Pegg's fanbase, a solid rental for everyone else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.