Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Film Review--How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
directed by Robert Weide
written by Peter Straughan
based on the novel by Toby Young
starring Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges, Megan Fox, Gillian Anderson, Danny Huston, Hannah Waddingham

In a pedestrian story that follows the bumbling antics of a would-be insider, Simon Pegg manages to give yet another zany and thoroughly intoxicating performance.

Sidney Young (Pegg) is a journalist of sorts. He wants nothing more than to submerge himself in an orgy of celebrities, to be surrounded day and night by the lucky, pretty ones whose every wish, want, and need is provided for them wherever they go. Sidney wants to cover these people up close and with full on access. Unfortunately as the film begins he is struggling with his rag, which gets him positively nowhere and in fact all his efforts to gain access are turned down. He’s in misery when he gets a call from Clayton Harding (Bridges), the main man over at Sharps magazine which is everything Sidney’s little publication isn’t. It has a huge worldwide following, is respected, and affords anyone who writes for it full access. Harding wants Sidney and offers him a job writing for his magazine. Sidney quickly accepts and finds himself entrenched in the precise world he’s been getting wet over nearly his entire life.

The sex-soaked reality show that Sidney falls into is filled with superficial moments and artificial glee. Every scene consumed with models and actors has a fake veneer that Sidney laps up like the pig he brings into a party only to be removed when the animal escapes his room and goes on a rampage. It is perhaps one of the most fascinating moments in the film. A sloppy, hungry beast tears through a room of fake plastic personalities and temporarily wrecks their soft, lazy worlds. The pig is far more elegant than any of the starlets or TV hunks or whatever other form of flotsam is making the rounds at the party. Regardless it is not Sidney’s world until he is sucked up by the only fashion celebrity magazine in the U.S. that matters.

Sidney is a gawker who cannot get over his deeply seated adoration of the open festering celebrity sore. He so desperately longs to be noticed by these would-be royal subjects and can hardly contain himself long enough to do his job properly. He gets an interview and botches it by asking the actor if he is Jewish and then if he is gay. He clashes with Alison Olsen (Dunst), an editor at the magazine whom he met the night before and annoyed to the point of aggravation. It’s perfectly obvious what direction the film is heading in with these two and it’s just a matter of waiting it out until the inevitable happens. Still, there is quite a bit of charm to Sidney’s character and Pegg promotes the idea of a struggling man who cannot seem to calm himself down long enough to make much of an impact. That all changes when he gets his big break and from that moment on he’s inside and soiling his undergarments. Harding tells him early in the picture that there are seven rooms and he is in the first one. Also, he was to never forget that Harding is in the seventh room. Through a baffling series of events despite his many distresses, Sidney makes it into the seventh room. He’s on top of it all and yet he’s still horrifically confused and unsure of what his own celebrity actually means.

Eleanor Johnson (Anderson) is an agent who is able to convince magazines such as Sharps to publish puff pieces on the talent she represents. She’s really grab-you-by-the-balls-and-laugh hard and aggressive while managing to doll it up a bit with her posture and the old sway of the hips nonsense. She and Sidney have their clashes but he is able to forgive all improprieties due to the emergence of Eleanor’s latest client: Sophie Maes (Fox). Sophie is a starlet who has just completed a biopic of Mother Theresa and is getting a considerable amount of buzz. Sidney is immediately stricken with her and her very presence is capable of sending him out of bounds. For her part, Sophie takes a liking to Sidney as well and their energies commingle in a rather dramatic fashion. It’s sexy, base, and with a dollop of desperation. Sophie seems to need something beyond the bubble which protects her elevated Self from many external pressures. She comes off as someone who yearns to find an aspect of herself that cannot be obtained while churning around in the system that has created her.

Megan Fox reaches a level of allure rarely obtained in cinema. She truly seems to be channeling the ghosts of Hedy Lamarr and Lana Turner and she establishes her bombshell credentials. It’s simply a matter of posture and lip-licking with the occasional iconic hand gesture thrown in to complete the picture. Sex appeal is a rough business these days as what comes down to us in its name is often shoddy work, indeed. This time, however, we are given a legitimate gift that ought to be remembered. Unadulterated sensuality of this sort drives mediocre films into the realm of the passable and credible. In this case it merely makes it decidedly more watchable. Simon Pegg and Megan Fox have a particularly decisive chemistry together that ought to see them in further projects together.

The differences between the public persona and the private person are exploited in this film. Sophie gains international superstardom and her image is fixed in the public’s mind. Yet the individual behind the look has doubts about the image and feels sometimes that she doesn’t really exist. Sophie seems to become a bit lost in the confusion surrounding the perpetuation of the image around the world, whether she desires it to be so or not. She is the trapped celebrity who is unable to effectively escape the camera’s lense. Her entire life has been transformed into a chandelier and symphonies, aching moments where she clamors to get out of the way of the electric buzz.

This is a film about a boob who stumbles into shangri-la. Sidney is by all measures a nitwit who cannot help projecting a seriously ill-mannered persona. He insults nearly everyone he meets in some fashion or another and is incapable of treading lightly around sensitive issues. Yet despite it all he’s not without talent and it is this that allows him to stick around long enough to get a choice assignment when it appears that all his crazy hopes are dashed irrevocably. His life is saved and he becomes the image of everything he has always imagined himself wanting. But bliss is a cruel bitch and he finds himself struggling to regain the simplicity with which he once gazed at the world before his view was clogged with botox and eye liner. He longs for Sophie in the worst way but suddenly there is a terrible complication that mucks it all up. He is faced with an agonizing decision that leaves him quaking and wholly unsure of which steps to take.

Sidney reaches the level of excellence that would chap the buttocks of the lowliest grunt writer. His hopes and expectations are given full rise and he sits in the bubble as long as he can take it. In many ways this is a film that manages to state rather emphatically, “watch what you wish just might come true. There are moments of sweet abandon where Sidney reveals his essential, core being is sympathetic and caring. He’s simply awkward in situations with other people and inadvertently comes off as an asshole. But he’s not, really. He’s just a bit unused with dealing with clients and employees at major league celebrity fashion magazines. It just takes practice and fortunately for him he manages to escape the tyranny of his own inadequacies long enough to establish himself to the people that are necessary for his further employment.

The tension surrounding Sidney wherever he turns is palpable throughout this film. He’s a nervous wreck who can’t figure out where to put his body in relation to space. He craves opportunities to improve his lot but manages to damage them through his stubbornness and unwillingness to play it soft although it is precisely this approach that leads to his astronomical success. So, essentially he caves in to rescue his career from the doldrums and the result of this action troubles him immensely.

The performances in this film are all rather credible. Simon Pegg has cornered the market on the aggressively charming capable type who in the end knows what the right thing is and no longer fights against it. He’s typically infectious in a manner that is indeed very rare. It’s impossible to watch a Simon Pegg filml and not root insatiably for his character to succeed in the most blatant way imaginable. Sidney is lovable and darling after a fashion and despite his tendencies to deeply annoy people he’s got a good heart and a kind spirit. Kirsten Dunst is typically forceful in a non-threatening manner. Still, I wouldn’t want to be five minutes late taking her to the dentist. I’m sure she’d find a cruel and unusual use for a stiletto. Dunst creates a character of great and lasting sympathy and it’s enjoyable to watch her move on screen. Jeff Bridges does a solid turn as a self-centered magazine editor-in-chief. He captures the character’s rough edges and establishes the solid foundation upon which he stands and gazes out over the world he partly controls. Bridges is perfectly cast as the occasionally cutting, severe head of Sharps. Megan Fox is as mentioned difficult to gage as an actress. Her performance is riveting mostly because of her physicality but she nevertheless manages to play the ingenue with conviction. She’s slightly self-deprecating and thereby warm and human, nothing like the image that had been created to sell her to the public.

Overall, this film satisfies the need to follow an essential imp up the ladder to the throne of his profession. Sidney is everyman struggling to realize his fondest wish without completely losing himself in the process. He wants success but does it want him? He yearns for a life of elegance and champagne surrounded by the lovely creatures that have always haunted his dreams. He wants nothing more than to breathe the same air as superstars and to be allowed the opportunity to listen to them say inane things about their careers, the economic downturn, or anything at all. Meanwhile, he also necessarily must protect himself and his instincts are set into play to impact the course of his actions. This is a film that celebrates the influence that star power has over the young and impressionable and how it carries over throughout life to be contained as a vision where grace, elegance and style are forever intermingled.

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