Friday, 3 October 2008

How to Loose Friends & Alienate People [The Review]

Adapted from the tome by Toby Young, which in turn became a successful stage play, Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) plays the socially dysfunctional Brit who lands up working in a Vanity Fair type Manhattan publication. And screws it all up.

The pleasure of Young’s original book was its self-mocking tone as he lists his toe-curling misjudgements, rubbing everyone up the wrong way before finally getting himself fired.

In person Toby Young is perfectly affable and currently has a successful career as a journalist here in the UK. His desire to do everything wrong, quite deliberately, has always had the whiff of contrivance about it. I worked, many years ago, for an single afternoon at the Modern Review, his anti-establishment publication whose office-life is briefly featured in this movie. A more disagreeable bunch of narcissists would be hard to meet - but Young himself was never anything less than pleasant and scrupulously polite. At midday I walked out for lunch and never went back.

Anyhow, the film. Here all the names are changed. Graydon Carter. Vanity Fair. All changed. The Hollywood star he asked whether he was gay, in an interview, which caused a ruckus? It’s no longer Nathan Lane. Everything has been tidied up and defanged. Worse, there’s even a love-interest with Kirsten Dunst. A cherished signet ring, which in his book he drunkenly gives to a girl in a bar, becomes the main McGuffin which moves the story forward – the shining object which draws in his romance with the woman he is destined to marry. Absurdly, he briefly becomes very good indeed at his job, having sold his soul to the devil. No such thing happened with Toby Young.

The whole tone of the book is changed then, and consequently, the whole point of the experience. This is no longer an attack on superficial media culture, pretty much the same, by the way, in both Manhattan and London. And it’s certainly no The Devil Wears Prada. It doesn’t have that slickness and facility. It’s not even as funny as the TV show Ugly Betty, also set in NYC’s glossy magazine world.

Young has gone on record as saying that Simon Pegg is just too nice to play him, and certainly he does a good job of making an unsympathetic character vaguely likeable. But in the end this is another generic comedy which loses its way within minutes, unsure whether to satirise the this fanciful, snobbish, rarefied world, or celebrate it.

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