By Leonard Maltin
Simon Pegg has made a smooth transition from cult figure on British TV, to star and writer of cult movies (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), and then to leading man (Run, Fat Boy, Run). He continues on that path with a highly entertaining film based on Toby Young's memoir of his hilarious experiences while working for Vanity Fair magazine. Peter Straughan’s screenplay uses the book as a springboard for a series of comedic and romantic misadventures that also takes us inside the world of celebrity culture. The charm of the film derives from the fact that it’s rooted in reality but isn’t afraid to incorporate slapstick and silliness into the proceedings.
Pegg’s character is something of a boor, and it takes time to understand what makes him such a bull in a china shop. If he didn’t also have endearing qualities the film would have nowhere to go. As it happens, he strikes up an initially combative relationship with his magazine colleague Kirsten Dunst (in the best part she’s had in years) and lusts for movie starlet Megan Fox (who’s surprisingly good—and appropriately sexy). Jeff Bridges is fun to watch as the Graydon Carter prototype, Danny Huston is well cast as a magazine editor and celebrity sycophant, and Gillian Anderson is perfect as a publicist who wields her power like a royal scepter. There are also fine contributions from such expert character actors as Miriam Margolyes and Bill Paterson. Everyone seems to be on top of his or her game, which says a lot about the contribution of director Robert Weide, who’s making his feature-film debut after an Emmy-winning career crafting documentaries on comedy icons from W.C. Fields to Lenny Bruce and piloting Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm from its inception through its first five seasons. (Full disclosure: Bob is an old friend of mine. I really hoped I would like this movie and I’m happy to say I like it a lot.)
Any movie that makes repeated reference to La Dolce Vita is setting its sights above the rabble. But How to Lose Friends and Alienate People has something for everyone—enough lowbrow humor and sexy women to please the crowd and plenty of smarts to satisfy discerning moviegoers as well. It’s a very appealing recipe for success.