How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is the story of Sidney Young, a journalist who moves from England to New York when he is offered the chance of a lifetime in a prestigious magazine.
Simon Pegg is Sidney Young. Sidney is bumbling, clumsy and lacks social skills. Within a few weeks of arriving in the US, Sidney manages to cough food on the magazine owner’s wife’s coat, kill the beloved dog of the hottest new star in Hollywood Sophia Maes (Megan Fox) and generally make a fool of himself at all the hottest parties. Predictably, after all, this is New York – the land of opportunity – Sidney manages to turn his awkwardness into success as he buys into the values of the glittering world he has somehow found himself to be in.
The film makes jibes at the cultural differences between the UK and the US through Sidney’s inability to fit into the world of professional journalism and into the city of New York. America is portrayed as full of people whose hair looks beautiful when they stumble out of bed, hungover, and Sidney is portrayed and a loutish Englishman who gets drunk and sings English football chants at Fourth of July parties before passing out. England, as a country, is redeemed somewhat by Sidney’s father Richard, who is as distinguished as Sidney is uncouth.
By the end of the film I found myself wondering why I liked Sidney’s character and ended up rooting for him. He is, to all intents and purposes, awful, and is told so many times by many different characters in the film, but it is precisely the fact that he is trying so hard to do things right that makes him endearing. We have all tried too hard to fit in and some of us stay quiet and try to hide, but others of us, like Sidney make a fool of ourselves in our enthusiasm to do well.
Pegg’s portrayal of Sidney’s enthusiasm and journalistic values is not one of his stand out roles, but his one line quips are entertaining. Kirsten Dunst plays Alison, a homely girl who ends up getting her man, similar to her role in Wimbledon. She is fine in the role, but is not extremely challenging for her. The same goes for Megan Fox’s character Sophie Maes. It would have been interesting if these two women’s roles had been switched, and possibly a challenge for both of them. As for Jeff Bridges, I left the cinema wondering why he had taken the role of Clayton. The character is nothing more than filler and Bridges is sadly underused. The only redeeming fact of having Bridges in the film is that it allows Sidney to call his landlady Mrs Kowalski, Mrs Lebowski and for the film buffs in the audience to snigger at the reference to The Big Lebowski, arguably Bridges’ greatest role. Another reference, but an underuse of an actor is Gillian Anderson. Tim, Pegg’s character from TV show Spaced masturbates to the image of Gillian Anderson in her most famous role, Agent Dana Scully from The X Files, so her appearance on screen along with Pegg is another chance for fans of pop culture to have a chuckle.
At the end of the day, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is a film about love, and at the end of the film, love conquers all. The film is worth watching for its sheer entertainment value, but I am not sure that it is one that movie goers would return to again. And this is coming from a Simon Pegg fan.