How to Lose Friends and Alienate People


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The British author Toby Jones was doing some graduate work at Harvard when he became a great fan of an American magazine called SPY, an iconoclastic examination of all things trendy, especially celebrity worship. SPY magazine preceded the internet era but it was a perfect foreshadowing of the content and attitudes which would later be ubiquitous on the web. Although Toby came from a highbrow upper-crust family and had an Oxbridge education to match, he found himself so engrossed in SPY's pop culture weltanschauung that he created his own version of it back in England, in the form of a little snark-fest magazine named Modern Review. That project was not particularly successful, but it caught the attention of Greydon Carter, former editor of SPY, who had moved up to the publishing big leagues as managing editor of Vanity Fair. Carter hired Jones.

Bad move for both of them.

Jones accepted the job because he had been such a great fan of SPY. Since he knew that Greydon Carter had seen Modern Review magazine before tendering a job offer, Jones expected to create pieces like the ones in that magazine, or like the similar ones Carter had shepherded through his years at SPY. That was not going to happen. Vanity Fair became a money machine by selling ads for high-end products and it got there because it co-operated with celebrities to obtain access to them. Since the end of celebrity co-operation would mean the end of high circulation numbers, Carter maintained a very different tone at Vanity Fair from the one he had created at SPY. VF was deferential to Hollywood and the snobby New York glitterati, and did not question the sense of entitlement the players derived from their money, fame, and power. Carter was a good manager, and did what was necessary to optimize his business. VF became very successful by sucking celebrity cock. To preserve that arrangement, it could run no hatchet jobs like the kind Toby enjoyed.

Toby Jones obviously did not belong in that world. Why, then, did Carter hire Jones in the first place? There's the $64,000 question. Perhaps neither of them can answer that to this day, but Toby's theory was that Carter had a brief flirtation with Toby as an avatar of his own younger self. That stimulated a bit of nostalgia for his salad days when he created articles that he really believed, as opposed to the ones that made money.

It didn't take Jones long to discover that he was in the wrong place, but he did have a contract, after all, so his did his level best to fit in at VF. His spectacular failure to do so was chronicled in a successful roman-a-clef called "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People," which eventually became the eponymous movie I'm supposed to be writing about. You have to tip your hat to any man who finds a way to profit from his own incompetence! Talk about making lemonade when life hands you lemons! It seems somehow appropriate, however, that his successful book about his failed magazine career has now become a failed movie. It's all part of the Circle of Life, otherwise called the Great Mandala, after Nelson's famous dad. Perhaps Toby has created an infinitely self-sustaining cycle in which he can now write another successful book about his failure as the film's co-producer, which can then be turned into another unfunny movie to continue the cycle! Believe it or not, that would not be his first successful book about failing in the film industry. He has already written one called "The Sound of No Hands Clapping" about his abortive attempt to become a Hollywood screenwriter.

Toby Jones is arguably the world's most successful failure.

I see that I've run out of prefatory remarks, which means I'm actually going to have to write a bad review of this film, about which I actually have little to say beyond the observation that it's kind of a rehash of The Devil Wore Prada, and is neither brilliant nor inept. My fervent hope is to save the day by writing a good book about my failure to create this review, thus inspiring MGM to turn that book into a bad movie, which I can in turn write another book about.

Oh, well, on with the perfunctory analysis.

(Spoilers ahead.)

The film ultimately fails because it just isn't what it should be. It should be a ruthless, fearless, no-holds-barred film taking a SPY approach to the cult of celebrity and the magazine industry based upon it. Instead it is a toothless comedy with an attitude more like that of Vanity Fair. There are a few funny scenes, but most of them involve some slapstick antics like the Toby character accidentally killing the dog of the actress he wants to have sex with. The only really barbed SPY-like element is a trailer for a film in which the beautiful airhead actress is trying to establish her screen cred by playing a glamorous young Mother Theresa. The rest of the screenplay generally embraces the world it purports to condemn. Not only does it not savage the hackneyed Hollywood formulas, but it is actually a slave to them. A good portion of the film consists of a safe and predictable romantic comedy about the lead character's romance with one of the lower-level staffers at the pseudo-VF. Their courtship ends with a string of clichés. At the end of the film the Toby character gets a chance to have sex with the world's most beautiful young actress, who happens to be the girl of his wet dreams, but he dumps her and blows off his rising career in the celebrity ass-kissing world, to regain his integrity and to catch the next plane to New York, where he watches La Dolce Vita in Central Park with the girl next door. (I didn't make that up, and it is all done without ostensible irony. Honest.)


* info not yet available







3.5 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
2.5 James Berardinelli  (of 4 stars)
37 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
35 (of 100)


7.2 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. The film bombed at the box office. It was distributed to 1700 screens and grossed only $1.4 million, about $800 per screen, on its opening weekend. That's weak; very weak. Hollywood's equivalent to the Mendoza line is the Gigli line - which is twice as much per screen as this film earned! Box Office Mojo doesn't create separate lists for films on 1500+ screens or 1700+, but one of its benchmarks is 2000 screens. No film on 2000 or more screens has ever grossed less than $899 per screen on its opening weekend. The film generally considered 2008's biggest bomb, The Rocker, grossed $947 per screen and $2.6 million for the weekend. In comparison, How to Lose Friends grossed $817 per screen and $1.4 million in total. The numbers suggest that this film, not The Rocker, was the biggest bomb of 2008, especially since it required a reported production budget of $28 million, compared to only $15 million for The Rocker.

It did better in other countries.


The only female nudity came from Charlotte Devaney, who played a transsexual stripper, showing her real breasts and bethonged butt, as well as a prosthetic penis.

Megan Fox didn't get naked, but she stripped down to her underwear in one scene, and earlier got her dress wet with no undergarments to spoil the show.



Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It is an OK, if surprisingly toothless comedy - basically a standard Hollywood rom-com, in which Simon Pegg plays McConaughey with an English accent. It's not as good as the IMDb score or Ebert's review might lead you to believe, but certainly not deserving of its box office ignominy. It's just that nobody really wants to see a McConaughey movie with an English accent.