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Monday, 9 May 2011

Review: How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (15) ★★★
A British writer struggles to fit in at a high-profile magazine in New York. Based on Toby Young's memoir "How to Lose Friends & Alienate People".

So let’s start with a snap review for you folks who are in a rush:

Have you seen The Wedding Singer? If so, you have already seen this film, albeit in my opinion, a much better version. If you haven’t, you should – immediately.

There ya go – now off you trot to make a sandwich or something. I like ham and brown sauce.

For those of you looking for more depth however, I feel that it’s important and perhaps necessary to show why both films are enjoyable in their own way. This is especially pragmatic given that scores both How to Lose Friends and Singer within .1 points of each other (6.7 and 6.8/10 respectively). Which to choose?

Firstly, my comparison between both films is far from accidental; the storyline, characters and plot progression are completely identical. Each film has a good hearted but emotionally wayward male lead (Sandler, Pegg), an initially stand-offish but ultimately besotted love interest (Barrymore, Dunst) and a charming but sinister ‘villiain’ for the audience to hate (Glave, Huston).

From a cinematography point of view, the word formulaic should essentially be stamped across the cover of How to Lose Friends in all formats. Similarly, I suspect that the directors of both films may actually be the same person. Like Spiderman and Peter Parker – but without the cool wardrobe. Both films have a very similar moral message (materialism bad, following your dreams good!) and both films follow a very similar path (boy meets girl, boy and girl hate each other, boy and girl get on, boy and girl fall out due to comedy misunderstanding, boy and girl make up and have babies).

Focusing purely on How to Lose Friends for the moment however, the story is one of Simon Pegg’s, Sidney Young, who randomly gets a chance to write for a Time-magazine-esque publication called ‘Sharp’. Initially seeing his elevation to a top class magazine as a dream come true we see Pegg trying to impress and failing miserably. Cue numerous scenes where it is solidly established that Pegg is a loveable loser against the seeming antithesis of Kirsten Dunst’s icy Alison Olsen. Of course, unless this is your first romantic comedy since Bambi (I’m kidding), you’ll know the outcome.

It should be noted that Simon Pegg is perhaps the only reason this film survives into the ‘average’ category. Pegg earnt his stripes working from the ground up on British television, grinding out his craft in gems such as Spaced and Hippies. Simon Pegg is not a Hollywood heartthrob, he is not cool (in this film at least), he is not sexy; he is not a ninja warrior pretending to be a book clerk. It is precisely for this reason that his turn as the lead in How to Lose Friends works perfectly. Watching this movie I could genuinely imagine Pegg being the caustic, embittered writer in his real life early days, scribbling ideas on a notepad and dissing Spielberg before hitting the big time.

Similarly, Kirsten Dunst is well cast in the same role that’s she’s played forever – the spiky but ultimately soft-hearted and talented love interest. Once again, if you’ve seen any Kirsten Dunst film, you’ve seen her in this one.

But it works!

To a point.

As previously highlighted, the whole film is a complete 101 in writing a romantic comedy. There are no twists and turns in this tale and anyone who cannot see the ending coming within twenty minutes of the film starting may actually be dead. Nonetheless, however, it’s enjoyable enough as a date movie or as a snuggle film to catch the last of the weekend’s dying glow. You won’t walk away from its 110 minute running time thinking you want to kill yourself, nor will you leap from your seat in stunned awe as I did after my first viewing of The Matrix.

What surprised me the most about How to Lose Friends was its comparative rating to The Wedding Singer, which for me is the superior film. Singer is ahead in the race for so many reasons: It has better scripting, better comic timing, better costumes, better supporting actors (I’m looking at you Allen Covert) and a kick-ass soundtrack.

Don’t get me wrong, How to Lose Friends isn’t a bad film – I enjoyed it in the way that you might enjoy watching Mutiny on the Bounty at your Grandmother’s on a Sunday after a decent tea. You know the story, you know the characters, you know the ending – but yet it’s enjoyable anyway. Plus you get cheese scones.
I would recommend this film if it’s on TV, or, if you’re stuck for a rom-com and have already seen Wedding Singer. Simon Pegg will keep you entertained for the duration; just don’t expect to be partying like its 1985.

Review Submitted and Rated by: Dave Gledhill


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