Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People


Review by Matthew Frendo

Never has a title been so apt, as in the case of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.  From the trailers, one would easily assume that it is a skewering take on Hollywood and all its vapid shallowness.  In fact, reading most mainstream critics, you will see that they were almost universally disappointed with this aspect of the film, with most claiming something along the lines that it was not "biting" enough satirically. 

Thing is, the mainstream critics got the whole idea wrong, as a cynical skewering of Hollywood was not the film’s focal point.   While it does do something of that nature, to a mild extent, it mainly treats the Hollywood stars as almost vacuums, who are more or less passively going along with the experience, as opposed to the manipulative and nearly evil "stars" who are portrayed in nearly every other Hollywood satire (press agents on the other hand…). 

No, the real target being aimed at here, and this is why the title is so fitting, are the fans themselves.  This movie shows the stupidity of worshiping Hollywood stars and those who are in their inner circle (in other words, it takes aim at those who read publications such as US Weekly without doing so for the sake of irony).  In fact, I cannot think of another movie that so exemplified the credo of punk rock, and this one did so without ever mentioning the musical form or corresponding attitude. 

Simon Pegg plays Sidney Young, a British writer who gets a job at Sharp magazine in New York.  Sidney, as a writer, is known for taking aim at movie and music stars who are pompous, arrogant, and/or stupid.  This, however, does not fit well at Sharp magazine, where every article is done to enhance a star's P.R.  Kirsten Dunst plays a veteran reporter for Sharp who cannot stand Sidney at first, yet eventually grows to really like him.  Megan Fox plays Sophie Maes, the hottest starlet in town who's on her way to winning her first Academy Award for playing Mother Theresa in a romantic drama (the casting choices for female roles alone provides enough metaphor for an entire blog).  Jeff Bridges is superbly cast as the editor for Sharp, who was once thought-provoking and independent like Sidney, but who has completely sold out to the Sharp image.  The story chronicles Sidney's journey through the bowels of Hollywood as a magazine writer who doesn't want his life resigned to puff pieces and PR profiles.

While the movie has its share of laugh-out-loud moments, I would place a bet that it falls more into the category of Jon Favreau's Made, in the sense that it will be more funny the more times one watches it.   Many of the jokes are more subtle than outlandish.  It also displays an amount of intelligence not usually associated with a Hollywood film (could this be why it opened at #19, the same week that Beverly Hills Chihuahua opened at #1?).  The characters are three-dimensional, and all act very human, as opposed to the caricatures who usually adorn satirical pieces.

I absolutely adored this film, enough that I would not be surprised to see it in my top 5 films of the year list.  In a world full of Hannah Montanas and Lindsay Lohans, where chastity rings are worn as P.R. propaganda, it's refreshing to see a movie that was made for the independent thinkers of the world (or, at least, of America).  You may wonder why most mainstream critics didn't find this film appealing.  It may be that they're stuck writing puff pieces themselves…

4 ½ / 5 stars

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