By Paul Blinov
Four out of five stars.
When romantic comedies feel bland, it’s typically because of their rigid adherence to structure: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy has change of heart and tries to win her back and some kind of wild-card complication (best friend tries to steal her, old ex answers the door in boy’s shirt, etc). How to Lose Friends & Alienate People doesn’t do much to buck this basic outline; however, director Robert B Weide uses the rom-com genre’s clichés to gleefully leapfrog into much more enduring comedy. Based on the memoirs of brit-journalist Toby Young’s time spent at Vanity Fair (here changed to Sharps Magazine), How to Lose Friends wisely casts Simon Pegg as Sidney Young: he’s a charming actor, well-versed in comedy and capable of drawing out care for a celebrity-obsessed journalist who leaves his tiny celeb-trashing magazine in London behind when publicly crashing an A-list party inadvertently lands him a job at a better publication. Of course, he doesn’t fit in: he struts in on his first day of work wearing a shirt that reads “Young, Dumb and Full of Come” to plenty of chagrin from his boss. Young struggles to maintain his credibility as he sees how much PR ass-kissing is required to get ahead with the job. Pegg’s brilliant at turning the unlikable fool into someone we want to see come out on top: he can be ridiculous, but Pegg has more than enough bumbling brit-charm waiting to brings us back to his side when it’s called for. Pegg’s romance with co-worker Alison (Kirsten Dunst) feels like a natural happening for both characters, while Megan Fox is hilarious as a Chihuahua-sporting, ditzy, starlet. One of the few downsides of How To Lose Friends is a typical issue of the book-to-screen translation: a number of intriguing sub-plots get touched on and left without much follow-up, such as Young’s philosopher father—he just sort of shows up, doles out advice and vanishes once more into the ether.
The movie really works in comical details, small and big: moving from above a kebab place in London to an identical set up in New York, having his starstruck montage of looking out limo windows at the shining lights of New York ruined by gunshots down an alley, and, um, full-frontal transsexual nudity are all gags that keep the movie from feeling like a stale exercise in the romantic comedy genre. After all, How to Lose Friends is a comedy about the romantic comedy: an excellent send-up of its too-often unbending structure that stresses the comedy part of the equation.