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Learning How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Published October 3, 2008 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Images property of Focus Features
How to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Lose Friends & Alienate People
As soon as Simon Pegg mentioned he was starring in the movie version of this book, I went out and read it. Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People is my favorite book of all time, so I would love a spoof and any inside Hollywood story.

Review: How to Lose Friends & Alienate People


I found the book to be obnoxious. Here was a guy complaining about what is my dream job. Now if you have a beef with celebrities, certainly there are plenty of non-celebrity jobs you could do instead. Heck, even if you want to bring them down from the inside, at least that's taking action. That's not really what Toby Young did either.

He called gatekeepers clipboard Nazis, as if doing their job was somehow uncalled for. So because they don't let you into a party that you weren't invited to, they are comparable to the people who killed six million Jews in World War II? I'm not really that sensitive about the word Nazi, but I don't sympathize with any resentment towards people actually doing the jobs they're entrusted to do. That's not so much a scathing perspective on the industry as it is a manifesto of an A-hole.

The movie is immediately friendlier than the book. They still use that offensive phrase once, but Simon Pegg portrays the journalist (now Sidney Young) as goofy, not bitter. His party crashing antics are a tad funnier than the real incidents from the book, in that they are actual ideas. His silly dancing moves are funny only because he's so committed to them. Sidney seems to actually enjoy movies in the first place, something Toby never conveyed.

For a while the movie coasts on being just fine. There are better movies about A-holes and better inside Hollywood stories, but How to Lose Friends seems fine for a movie of a book nobody's heard of with just enough name actors to guarantee a minimal theatrical release.



Eventually, even this wears off. It becomes clear that the movie version still has nothing to contribute. It's like Entourage from the outside, as all the "inside" Hollywood clichés seem to come from public stereotypes, not private observations.

The book was a memoir of Young's adventures entertainment journalism. The movie is less memoir and more underdog tale as "Sidney" Young makes social faux pas that hinder him from making it at a hip celeb magazine (also a fake name to disguise the real Vanity Fair).

Sidney is never endearing. Everything he does reflects badly on himself. If the film had any balls, it would be a punishment of a screw up. There aren't any real consequences for his behavior though. People don't like him but approval never seems to matter to him. He keeps his job, in fact gets more and more opportunities. Which would also be fine if any of the antics were original. Nobody goes to comedies to analyze the story, but without humor that's all there is to do. I mean, the pig gag was played better in College Road Trip!

In the end, the film is excessively proud to chastise the celebrity journalism industry but it has no basis. One, all but one of the celebrities is made up. Two, nobody seems to do any journalism. Three, they never establish the joy of Hollywood. He just seems to try to get in because it's there, and then reject it because it didn't work out.

It's not even about the nobility of journalism. He wants to write a slam piece on the filmmaker he hates instead of a positive one. That's just the opposite extreme of subjectivity.

Part of the problem is the material itself. Who really cares about entertainment journalism except the people who already do it? People are fascinated by Hollywood, not the people who tell them about Hollywood. But if this is your subject, you should at least show why it would be a dream job before you deconstruct it. That's at least a temptation story.

Mainly, I still don't understand how people can work for only one outlet. What do they do all day? This guy writes one story in the entire duration of the movie! I know that's sort of a filmic conceit but really, why does a magazine need a staff this big to write a few monthly stories? How do they even stay in business?

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Fred Topel
Sources: Images property of Focus Features
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