In adapting How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, Toby Young's memoir of an oft-disastrous stint toiling for Graydon Carter at Vanity Fair, director Robert Weide and screenwriter Peter Straughan faced a formidable challenge. How do you get audiences to root for an obnoxious jerk who behaves like a complete ass and richly earns his co-workers and bosses' contempt? Their answer was twofold: hire the extremely likable, accomplished comic actor Simon Pegg to smooth away some of Young's rough edges and surround him with grotesque caricatures of empty, superficial East Coast snobs who can't help but make Pegg's grating bungler look borderline sympathetic by comparison. The blessed exception is Jeff Bridges' regal take on Carter, a wild young turk of Spy turned slick denizen of the moneyed establishment.
Pegg stars as Young's surrogate, a smartass satirist who leaves his plucky Spy-inspired magazine in England for a chance to start at the bottom working for Bridges. In employing Pegg, even in a menial capacity, Bridges sees an opportunity to reconnect with the irreverent, piratical spirit of his early days lampooning the movie stars and über-rich he now services shamelessly. Pegg repays the favor with an endless parade of cartoonish blunders and mishaps. Then, over the course of a single magical montage sequence, Pegg morphs from soon-to-be-fired incompetent to wildly successful celebrity journalist. Along the way, he falls for co-worker Kirsten Dunst, who inexplicably sees past his boorish exterior to find noble elements invisible to everyone else.
People can't decide whether it wants to satirize its protagonist's myopic conception of himself as a bold truth-teller or buy into his self-delusion. It doesn't know if it's supposed to laugh at him or with him, so it settles on lampooning easy targets like Megan Fox's borderline mentally-challenged starlet and Danny Huston's oily back-stabber without scoring even the cheap, empty laughs it's after. For a film about the seductive, glossy world of money and fame, People looks cheap and ugly. Bridges has a nice monologue about the ruthless, hierarchal nature of success but his dignified performance belongs in a different, better film. How To Lose Friends And Alienate People's title proves prophetic, only this time the people being alienated are the suckers in the paying audience.