Film Review - How To Lose Friends & Alienate People (2008)
Political satire is a difficult challenge to approach in comedy but when done well it can be both funny, and a great peice of social commentary. This film likes the straddle the line between a comedic lambasting of the media industry and a semi-serious exploration of personal integrity. Perhaps it's because of this subject matter that I enjoyed the film as much as I did. It's not only got a sense of humour I appreciate, though the absurdist elements where a little on the nose at times, it's also spreading a message that I find personally very powerful.
In starting this site one of the key things I wanted was a place where I can voice my opinions free from censorship, corporate meddling, or the need to pander to any individual group. There's a sense of rebeliousness to what I'm doing, as if I'm "sticking it to the man", so to speak and it'd be easy for me to relate to the character of Sidney or indeed the younger persona Clayton has in this film. Sidney is a celebrity journalist who's never tasted success, holds his integrity close and wants to strike back at the pretentiousness of celebrity culture. When he's hired by Clayton's company he finds that he rubs people the wrong way and the staff of the celebrity magazine he now works for find him uncouth. Is he a man of principle holding a mirror up at all these duplicitous preening nonsense merchants selling celebrity gossip and showering the rich with shallow platitudes? Is he a bitter outcast striking back at the competent and successful because he can't match them on their own level despite the apparent lack of talent or substance they exude?
I chose this film to review having never seen it before and completely unaware of it's plot. For the first film I'm reviewing on this site, for me to pick one that could so well be an allegory for this site is honestly a minefield I really shouldn't have got myself into; but fuck it, I've spent my free time watching this film now so it's the one I'm reviewing. Whether the review ends up being some meta-commentary on the nature of media critique is honestly outside of my control now.
When it comes to the technicals, the film excels in every way. This isn't an action, sci-fi, or horror film so there's no call for specialist cinematography or special effects; but it's still well shot and well balanced. The pacing of the film is particularly good, as you move from one scene to the next in a somewhat brisk manner that allows the main characters to show off who they are and follow natural story arcs and they grow and change throughout the plot. Simon Pegg plays the main character of Sidney, the bitter but principled journalist and Kirsten Dunst plays Alison, the professional writer for the magazine Sidney finds himself working at and the primary foil for his blunders. Both characters are a focus for asking the questions this film wants to ask on the nature of journalistic integrity, celebrity culture, what you define as success, and the perception of success in others. Both actors play their roles brilliantly and I felt myself growing attached to both of them as the film progressed.
Both of the main characters are very flawed and it would be easy to write and entire book on the psychology present in each of them, which if anything goes towards showing just how well they're written as it's easy to infer a complex persona from less than 2 hours of time with them; something so rarely achieved now, especially at a time when sequels and long standing franchises are a thing.
From a personal perspective I feel that what I can take away from this film is that while journalistic integrity is an important thing, so important in fact that I consider it a paramount quality for anyone who wants to be taken seriously by their readership. Being bitter and angry gets you no-where. You don't succeed by assuming everyone is terrible, and you can't further art by being overly critical. You need to learn to enjoy the frivilous at times and embrace the "trash" that makes up the celebrity/media culture we have at least in part in order to reach those last rooms where you can really make a difference. Resenting others because you don't see as much artistic merit in what they produce only serves to make you bitter. It's why I don't want to be the guy complaining at the next Assassin's Creed or Call Of Duty game for being formulaic. Nor do I feel a simple fun action film lacks merit just because it doesn't explore the human condition, it can just be an exciting romp with colourful characters. Maybe Sidney has a point. Maybe 'Con Air' is the greatest film ever made, (in fact that line really made me smile as it's genuinely one of my favourite films; though I'd argue for 'Starship Troopers' personally). Ultimately, being pretentious doesn't help anyone (he says whilst writing a pretentious yet fawning review for this film), all that mindset is, is a way to lose friends and alienate people.
Don't misunderstand, this film isn't going to profoundly change your life. It probably won't make it on a list of the best films of all time, and it's not the kind of comedy that will make you laugh out loud. But it is a feel good film that will brighten your day and sometimes that's enough.