How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (review)

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It’s All About Simon Pegg

If you’ve never worked in New York publishing, then you have no idea how supremely unglamorous it is, fantasy movie and TV depictions of the industry aside. If you have worked in New York publishing, then you might understand why Sidney Young — just transplanted from London to New York — is such as asshole about it as he crashes his way into a new job at upscale Sharps magazine: he has bought into the fantasy of the glamour, and he really, really wants to be a part of it, and he’s really, really a jerk along the path to discovering that it’s not for him after all.
And why do we love Sidney anyway, even as he is spectacularly unpalatable, contradictory, hypocritcal, a lout, a louse, plagued by poor judgment, and a terrible dresser? Because, as director Robert Weide explains simply in the making-of featurette on the new Region 1 DVD of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, “We have Simon Pegg.” (It’s coming soon in Region 2.)

Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Mission: Impossible III) is my kind of geek. Sidney Young — a not-at-all disguised version of British writer Toby Young, upon whose memoir this is based — is not my kind of geek, but that’s the thing about DVD bonus material: now you’re spending time with the actor, not the character. There are two commentary tracks on How to Lose Friends, one with Weide and Pegg, and one with just Weide. I didn’t listen to the solo Weide one (“There may be a bit of overlap” between the two commentaries, Weide acknowledges on the other one, so I probably didn’t miss much) — I just listened to the other one. And I was well rewarded for doing so.

Pegg is one of those actors about whom I can say things like, “He’s so funny, I would listen to him reading from the phone book,” and mean it. And this commentary track is an excellent example of Pegg’s inherent drollness. Sure, he’s got moments, amongst all the good-natured barbs he trades with Weide, in which he accidentally lapses into sincerity and discusses bits and pieces from the perspective of the filmmaker he is himself (though he worked strictly in front of the camera on this flick). But mostly it’s all Pegg and Weide ragging on each other, their fellow thespians and artisans, and their movie itself, deconstructing themselves and their work — Weide doesn’t know anything about F-stops or lenses, he confesses: he’s got people to do that for him; Pegg admits that he “always tr[ies] and milk everything [he] can from a scene” — and generally taking the entire concept of the commentary track out behind the shed and giving it a good few kicks. “I think commentaries are bullshit,” Pegg quips. “Quentin Tarantino never does commentaries. Neither does Woody Allen.”

The real Toby Young, in the making-of featurette, calls Pegg “the Dudley Moore of our generation,” which is half intriguing and half disturbing, and may in fact be meant as a joke. But it’s true that the idiotic suckup Sidney — whose grand goals are to bed a beautiful movie star (Megan Fox: Transformers), impress his Sharps boss (Jeff Bridges: Iron Man, Surf’s Up), and avoid incurring too much wrath on the part of his caustic coworker (Kirsten Dunst: Spider-Man 3, Marie Antoinette); he fails at all three — is far more sympathetic than he deserves to be, in a drunken-Arthur-without-the-millions kind of way, because of Pegg.

I’m glad he does commentaries, too: I’m sure neither Tarantino nor Allen would be half as entertaining as he is.

Oh, and Weide mentions deleted scenes and gag reel, but they’re not on the DVD. I smell a special edition…

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Wed, Feb 25, 2009 1:41pm

I’m not sure what you see in this movie. Simon Pegg’s character is terrible. No matter how much I like Mr. Pegg, I couldn’t get past just how stupid he is.