How to Lose Friends and Alienate People review by Jackass Tom

The first time I saw or noticed Toby Young was on the recent season of Top Chef. He filled in for a number of weeks for Gail Simmons, a judge whose credentials come from critiquing Food and Wine Magazine. Young entered the episode like a tiger entering the gladiator arena. Would be Top Chef’s watched with trepidation as their counterparts had their dishes criticized by this impish looking food critic’s witty barbs, sharpened to hurt feelings and leave lasting scars. During the competition, he rarely seemed to waiver or show emotion; giving no hints to whether he was pleased with a dish or disgusted (quite a contrast with Hell’s Kitchen’s Gordon Ramsey who flails his arms and yells at the top of his lungs like a drunken sailor). My next introduction to Toby Young came when I discovered that the movie How to Lose Friends and Alienate People was based on a book of his memoirs with the same title.

In the film, Toby’s name has been changed to Sidney (played by Simon Pegg) and if I am to read the movie as biography, Mr. Young’s career as a critic had some rather auspicious beginnings. He starts the movie as a young boy with a goal of reaching Los Angeles which to him is some sort of Shangri-La. The older Sidney runs a small time celebrity trashing magazine and he is quickly losing control of the reins just as he is offered a job at Sharps (aka Vanity Fair) from editor Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges). The job ships him from London to New York, getting him one big step closer to his L.A. goal. Harding was a one time indy magazine man just like Young, only now he is a polished, jaded, grinder of an editor and he sees something in Sidney that he once saw in himself. Also writing for Sharps is Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst) who brutally honest with Young and the only person who will really talk to him as a peer. Everyone else avoids him like he is under quarantine.

Along the way Sidney does a number of different things to rub people the wrong way, as you would expect from the movie title. Occasionally he sheepishly says “the wrong thing” to women, he interviews a Nathan Lane character and asks him if he is Jewish then gay, he hires a she-male stripper to get back at a colleague who stole his idea (on take your daughter to work day), he kills some celebrity bimbo’s chihuahua and he writes hatchet articles when he doesn’t like celebrities. All of these things are apparently taboo, and get him labeled as “the weird guy” (which I don’t get because if he worked at Jackass Critics, he would get labeled as “the cool guy”).

Now just when I least expected it, the movie took a right turn in the middle of act 2 and became a full fledged romantic comedy. That’s right, I actually (stupid me) held out hope that it would break a mold and tell the story of an irritating man trying to make it in an intolerant world but instead I got dancing in pajamas, hurt feelings, and moments of tenderness…WHICH, I’m usually tolerant of but I just prefer a little more warning. Yes at some point, Sidney sells his soul, writes puff pieces and makes it to L.A. but alas he finds his heart is somewhere else.

Now what I can’t get out of my head is how the judge I saw on Top Chef differs from Simon Pegg’s creation. I’ve lead myself to the conclusion that the movie took a wrong turn somewhere. Multiple places on the internet mention that Toby Young was booted and banned from the set (insert joke about how “if its on the internet it has to be true…thank you). In my mind, I imagine he was being both helpful in trying to illustrate how he saw things happening and in the process was annoying and pushy (keep in mind, the movie is about him essentially). Simon Pegg’s creation (or maybe the director's, writer’s creation) seems awkward and helpless in mostly a puppy dog type way as opposed to an arrogant jerk-off way. In the film, they apply a good part of “Sidney Young’s” problem is his appearance. He is called piggy, told women feel awkward around him, and most of this is left up to his appearance and part because of the awkward things he says (awkward, not abrasive). Yes, he does some things that are clearly self-destructive but half the time he is scrambling around to undo something he major forked up. The impression I get from Toby Young is that he rubs his opinion on you like sandpaper. Straight faced, no emotion, and complete disregard for other opinions. I only got flashes of that vibe from Simon Pegg. I felt that in a movie about “losing friends” and “alienating people” I wasn’t supposed to find myself liking the main character, but Pegg makes it nearly impossible not to like Sidney Young.

Overall the movie is very average. There are some funny moments, but by the time they pick up steam, the romantic comedy formula has already kicked in and the movie leads you down a completely different path. As a romantic comedy the movie breaks no ground and maybe even falls a little below average. What seemed like a good idea to me about a puggly-looking, hateful man with no people skills turned out to be sorta cute and kinda cuddly and maybe slightly disappointing.

4 out of 10 Jackasses
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