How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is a toothless satire raised from plain-jane mediocrity to legitimately pleasant all-rightness entirely by the performances of Simon Pegg and Kirsten Dunst. In a year where Tropic Thunder, JCVD, My Name is Bruce and more piled themselves on an already-tired stack of films about the industry poking fun at itself, director Robert Weide's adaptation of the (in)famous book is a hit-and-miss half-assery of star-skewering and romantic comedy fluff that fails to dig deep enough to draw blood despite ample opportunity, and yet I walked away with a smile thanks to the stars' truly effortless chemistry.
Pegg plays Sidney Young (an interpretation of the book's real-life author Toby Young), the creator of the supposedly scathing British tabloid the Post-Modern Review. One of his former idols is Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges, sporting an incredible wig), who has gone on to be the editor-in-chief of Sharps Magazine in New York City, where Sidney feels he's lost his bite. After Sidney ruins one of Clayton's fancy parties by crashing it with a pig in tow, Clayton gives Sidney a call and offers him a job at Sharps. Seeing an opportunity to bring some cutting criticism back into Clayton's work, Sidney accepts, flying to the States to start cracking heads. Instead, however, he finds himself under the watchful eye of co-worker Alison Olson (Dunst), whose current assignment seems to be keeping Sidney in check.
The main problem is the film's fear of being truly caustic, despite it literally being Sidney's goal to do so. It's clear that Weide and screenwriter Peter Straughan worry (with good reason, admittedly) that giving Sidney the teeth to tear into someone could also make him an unlikable jackass, but if there's anyone in the world who could have balanced the anarchic with the amicable it's Simon Pegg. Instead, Sidney bluntly nags an actor about their sexual orientation, and the joke falls flat beacuse not only is the line of questioning more unwise than outrageous, we've got no bearing on the "actor" in question. A real-life recognizable face might have packed a stronger punch. Similarly, while Max Minghella's pretentious, ego-trip director has considerably more screentime, the film never aims below-the-belt. The character is merely dazed and distant, when it's a perfect chance to stick it to both abstract artistes and David-O.-Russell-style directorial explosions.
The remaining plot tracks the love-hate Alison and Sidney's love hate-relationship, which reeks of a Hollywood book-to-film adaptation. Could these two actually have something in common? Boy, I wonder! And yet there's Pegg and Dunst, generating crackling romantic and comedic chemistry, both exceptionally charismatic and appealing from the first frame to the last. Props for Pegg are expected, as he continues to elevate everything he's in, but I want to shine a light on Dunst's performance, Her career of late is faltering more than she deserves, and while Alison's character arc is no great shakes, she still imbues it with more life and charm than many actresses could muster. This includes the exceptionally boring Megan Fox as the exceptionally boring Sophie Maes, a movie star who is probably not interested in Sidney, no matter how much he prays. Her fake Mother Teresa biopic is chuckle-worthy, but it's got nothing on Downey Jr.'s Satan's Alley from Tropic Thunder. As far as everyone else goes, Jeff Bridges and the wig phone in their performances (clearly each thought the other would do all the work), and the script repeatedly fails the appealingly smarmy Danny Huston and a seemingly-game Gillian Anderson, as a professional/love rival of Sidney's and Sophie Maes' agent, respectively.
How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is the kind of movie you'd enjoy on television and forget by the end of the week, the cinematic equivalent of a catchy, radio-ready single by a solid band. It certainly could have been better (I'm sure a superior movie could be made about the same subject, even with an identical cast and crew) but its two leads are so charming and likable that you can't help but walk away from the movie feeling good. Given the subject matter, perhaps that's its biggest failure, but for Pegg and Dunst, I'll let it slide.
How to Lose Friends comes in a standard sized keep case with the pleasant but unremarkable poster art on the front (too many comedy animals on it, but I like its clean efficiency). The back cover plays up Megan Fox too much for my tastes (Pegg's the star, but let's look at the back of his head!), but is otherwise fine. There's no insert or slipcover, and the disc has a somewhat irrelevant picture of Pegg on it. The menus are clever, but a little cluttered.
There are no noticeable flaws in this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Color is vibrant, detail is strong, and as this is a new release I detected no print flaws or damage. The picture even exhibits some depth, which is nice. While MGM and Fox have elected not to issue How to Lose Friends on Blu-Ray disc (only available in the UK thus far...more on this in the extras), the standard-def presentation leaves little to be desired.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is crisp and effective as Sidney hits up all the posh New York parties and various awards shows. The music and ambiance even give the bass a bit of a workout, which is more than I expected. Spanish and French 5.1 audio are also provided, along with both English and Spanish subtitles (no French).
A widely-covered warning by Simon Pegg to American audiences via his MySpace blog reveals that the US DVD of How to Lose Friends is missing a few notable extras from its UK counterpart. Deleted scenes, a gag reel and a series of online video blogs from Brit newspaper The Guardian didn't make the cut. I couldn't find any info on exactly how long the deleted scenes run, but this is the most glaring of the three omissions, as they're referenced repeatedly on the disc's existing extras (the Guardian blogs were online for free last time I checked, and even the funniest gag reel ever isn't something I'll lose sleep over). Unless it's a remarkably large chunk of excised bits, I'm sure it could have fit on this single-disc release and there's no good reason for MGM/Fox to have left them by the wayside, regardless of the film's US performance. A Blu-Ray release is also referenced by Pegg, which as I mentioned earlier is a US no-show. Again, shameful. Day and date, damn it!
The centerpiece of what remains are the two audio commentaries, with Weide and Pegg and then Weide flying solo. It's a shame they couldn't get Dunst and Toby Young on the tracks, respectively, as they may have added the spark needed to push them up to indispensable listens. On the first, Pegg genially mocks his performance (he calls one of his facial expressions "a 1980's comedy with Michael J. Fox in it") and does amusing impressions of Danny Huston, while Weide makes deadpan jokes and points out pictures of his pets peppering every scene. The other track is quieter and there's some definite overlap, but this is the more informative of the two, for those looking for production info. Both of these are pretty low-key and Pegg's can't reach the heights of his Edgar Wright tracks, but there are no significant gaps and neither is ever outright boring. On the downside, as I mentioned, the absentee deleted scenes are referenced pretty much as frequently as possible on both of these tracks.
The only other bonus feature is "Sharp Interviews", which runs 18:39 and has various amusingly uncensored, reasonably entertaining interviews with Weide, producer Stephen Woolley, author Toby Young and the entire major credited cast, but it relies heavily on clips from the feature film. Nice enough, but nothing I see anyone revisiting. A digital copy promo (much like the commentary's talk of cut footage, this disc has no digital copy) and the trailers for Quantum of Solace, The Rocker, S. Darko and the horrendous-looking Bride Wars are automatic, while you can also select spots for Choke and Slumdog Millionaire from the menu. No theatrical trailer for the film is included.
Despite all my woulda-coulda-shoulda reservations about how good this film might have been, and the fact that it's missing bonus features available in other regions, I'd still recommend this disc to Simon Pegg and Kirsten Dunst fans. Their chemistry is infectious, and to say it goes a long way is a massive understatement. As for the lost bonuses, I'm not sure How to Lose Friends is worth the effort of importing, and I don't see a better DVD in the cards in the future, so while I don't suggest paying full price, this is worth owning. Only Blu-Ray fans may want to wait, as MGM/Fox haven't released a comparable disc and the missing extras may make a belated appearance when they do.
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