Dir: Robert Weide. 2008. 109mins.
The big-screen translation of Brit journalist Toby Young's doomed sojourn at Vanity Fair is a slick package that recalls everything from The Devil Wears Prada to A Fish Called Wanda (mainly for the dead dog gag). It's a breezy interpretation which should turn out the crowds at home in the UK and may well attract some of the Prada crowd in the US; ultimately, it's a great bet for ancillary and a commercially sound proposition for its backers.
What it fails to do, though, is what comedies are ultimately there for - to send audiences home laughing. Simon Pegg's brilliant central performance and some very funny gags are drained by a limp finale which leaves all manner of plot strands hanging and characters left out to dry as the film stalls and sputters its way home.
Screen writer Peter Straughan has for the most part got a good grasp on the essence of Young's memoirs, which charted his decline and fall at Vanity Fair under editor Graydon Carter (here it's Sharps edited by Clayton Harding and Young is Sydney not Toby). Young was a cringeworthy, not terrifically sympathetic protagonist of his own amusing book, and if anyone could pull this loser character off, it's Simon Pegg, who completely convinces and even manages to make the character attractive. It's an impressive performance which transcends the Hot Fuzz/Shaun Of The Dead roles he has played to date and confirms his ability to take centre-stage in a wider-based project.
On film, How To Lose Friends& Alienate People becomes more of a treatise on the world of celebrity journalism, with Young desperate to get behind the velvet rope, even if it means trying to crash the BAFTAS with a pig he claims is Babe 2. His antics get him noticed by Harding (Bridges) and soon he's off to New York City and installed at Sharps alongside disdainful reporter Alison (Dunst) and unctuous section chief Maddox (Huston).
Gillian Anderson turns up in a fabulous cameo as publicist to the stars Eleanor, who seems to be more involved in editing the magazine than the disaffected Harding, and she's touting two clients - one, beautiful but conniving Sophie Maes (Fox), is the woman of Young's lewd dreams, while Vincent Lepak (Minghella) is New York's director du jour ('I am my role model. I want to be me,' he tells the reporter).
How To Lose Friends& Alienate People is at its cracking best here, in the Manhattan office, exploiting the differences between a British journalist and the glitzy, hyper-controlled world of Hollywood celebrity, and mercilessly sending up its protagonist. However, a romantic subplot with Alison requires Pegg to perform some rapid and clumsy character gymnastics to become a love hero in the film's eleventh hour and the goodwill largely peters away - along with Jeff Bridges's role.
Location work is pretty unremarkable and this seems like a studio-bound project in the classic British budget-challenged comedy style; even the Sharps offices aren't particularly notable.
The UK Film Council
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Based on the book by Toby Young