How to Lose Friends and Alienate People
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
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 second-rate film, about which I actually have
little to say beyond the observation that it's kind of a rehash of The Devil
Wore Prada. 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
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
film 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 cocksucking 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
Critics were divided, leaning toward negative, but generally not harsh: 35/100
at Metacritic; 37% positive reviews reported by Rotten Tomatoes.
Roger Ebert was an outlier, delivering the best (per Metacritic) review the
film ever received, a glowing 3.5 stars.
Predictably enough, 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. 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
bomb of the year, especially since it required a reported production budget of
$28 million, compared to only $15 million for The Rocker.
The only female nudity came from
Charlotte Devaney, who played a transsexual stripper. You can look at her
breasts and ass without embarrassment. She is a real woman and the penis is
didn't get naked, but she stripped down to her underwear in one scene, and got
her dress wet in another.
According to IMDb, this is a made-for-cable film created in 2007, filmed in
Barcelona, starring Dean Cain and Arnold Vosloo. It's a formulaic and
plot-driven international thriller of no special merit ... North Koreans ...
corrupt Americans ... counterfeiting ... usual stuff - but it's fast-paced and
watchable. Your basic filler material.
The only nudity comes from a character named Maria Infante or Enfante, who is
clearly identified by name in the script, but not listed in the credits. My best
guess is that the topless woman is an obscure actress named Carol Jimenez, who
is credited as "female neighbor." But that's just a guess.
Here are the film clips.