Aspiration. It’s everywhere. Its influence is most felt not in film or advertising, but in the pages of the Guardian – a newspaper that peddles a lifestyle enjoyed by maybe 10% of its readers. Let’s take a look here: the beauty section enthuses about the Clarisonic Plus, which is like a “sonic toothbrush for the skin”. It’s £179. We should also spend £800 on a shelf, £245 on a sweater, and book the next flight to Uzebekistan where you and your partner can stay for 11 nights for the paltry sum of £2640. Which is all very well if you’re on 50 grand a year and feeling frivolous – but, sweetie, you’re not. You are, statistically, a marketing assistant selling insurance earning £24k (OTE) and each and every time you spend £245 on a horrible sweater it’s £245 further away you’ll be from ever owning your own home or paying off your student loan or joining the Real World where grown ups think that kind of frivolity is frankly rather stupid. The Times is worse, breezily discussing botox and Brazilian waxes as if sticking botulinum toxin into your face and ripping out your pubic hair by the roots is something any sane human being would do.
It’s like those airbrushed photos of emaciated coked-up teenagers that passes for fashion these days: it’s so long since you’ve seen “normal” that you forget what normal is, and then when you see it, it’s strange and fascinating and wonderful. For those of us for whom the airbrushed world of Friends is as alien as the ghoulish voyeurism of a Ken Loach movie, Ricky Gervais’s The Office was a welcome aspiration-free snapshot of our lives as they actually are. Simon Pegg has done such an accurate job of demonstrating everyday Britishness that he’s made quite an extraordinary career for himself. And here he is, aspiring.
Pegg plays Sidney Young, who is based on Toby Young. It’s Toby’s memoir from which this film is loosely adapted. The plot is, basically, The Devil Wears Prada but with movie stars instead of models. Toby Young spent five years trying to work his way up the greasy pole at Vanity Fair, which is here referred to as Sharps Magazine. Jeff Bridges is the editor who is certainly no Miranda Priestly, but is exasperated by Pegg’s lack of professionalism. Pegg – like Anne Hathaway’s character in Prada – thinks he’s frankly above the vapid, glossy fluff that the magazine produces. He’s reluctantly aided by co-worker Kirsten Dunst, who plays her usual everywoman role. She helps him navigate the complex politics of the celebrity-interview game, including how to keep on the right side of terrifying PR whiz Gillian Anderson.
It’s here that the film is most fun. Like America’s Sweethearts, it gently nibbles rather than taking vicious bites, but does highlight the relationship between hacks and publicists: the former as grovelling sycophants, the latter as kingmakers. Max Minghella is the pretentious film director Pegg wants to take down a peg or two, and Megan Fox is perfectly cast as … uh … vapid, glossy fluff.
Thus the film is wholly predictable, with the boo-hiss villain Danny Huston and a number of escapades involving assorted ill-fated small animals and the occasional transsexual stripper. Pegg desperately wants to get into Megan Fox’s panties, but the very casting of Kirsten Dunst gives away the ending before we’ve even begun. Along the way, we have a series of gags from smirkworthy to laugh-out-loud hilarious, and the film is fun from start to finish.
It tanked in America, and I can only imagine that’s because Pegg’s flair for encapsulating the ordinary British experience alienates Americans who don’t recognise themselves in his blundering tomfoolery. Even so, everyone should give How To Lose Friends & Alienate People a look. Especially if they enjoy watching small cute pigs run amok.