For a film that satirises some poor sap’s unseemly desperation to be something he isn’t, Robert B Weide’s mediamocking romcom is unseemly in its desperation to be something it isn’t.
The source is Brit-hack Toby Young’s 2001 media memoir about his ill starred late-’90s stint at Vanity Fair. But Weide milks his main moves from Billy Wilder’s 1960 classic The Apartment, without putting in the hard graft needed to replicate his predecessor’s bittersweet’n’bilious balancing act.
Wilder’s corporate-satirising fable charts the moral and romantic compromises incurred by lowly clerk CC “Buddy Boy” Baxter ( Jack Lemmon) in his attempts to gain access to the executive washroom and woo Shirley MacLaine’s Fran Kubelik.
Friends follows Sidney Young (Simon Pegg), a London hack prone to foot-in-mouth disease, as he takes a job at New York’s Sharps magazine in the hope of shagging starlets and shaking up America.
Instead, he finds himself bottom-runging, selling himself out for access to the whispered-of seventh-level restroom and oinking like a pig for the New York in-crowd. His only hope lies in Kirsten Dunst’s Alison Olsen, an initially frosty colleague who turns out to be a love-damaged diamond in the Kubelik vein.
It’s a timeless set-up but, by contrast with Baxter, Sidney is too Loaded-lad repellent for us to care or to feel moved by his romantic intentions. Pegg was presumably cast for his everyman chops but even he can’t salvage Sidney’s one-man moronic inferno – he looks like a fish out of water to a non-intentional degree.
Comedy-wise, sloppy timing suggests that Weide is equally more at home helming Curb Your Enthusiasm’s sitcom-sized embarrassments, although the script delivers largely cheap gruel to work with. Granted, in typical smartly sweet style, Dunst fires off some sassy Sid-targeted splat-downs (“I don’t mean to be rude, Sidney, but what the fuck do you want?”).
But their banter splutters when it should spark, as do surprise-light gags about media corruption, a chihuahua-wielding starlet (Megan Fox) being a bit dim and a ‘woman’ turning out to have a willy when Sidney pulls her. Satires of barrel-scraping media vapidity shouldn’t settle for barrel-scraping gags, surely?
Granted, there is fringe-situated relief here. Jeff Bridges gives good power-smoking Yankee editor, Danny Huston revels in the repugnance of Sidney’s section head and Gillian Anderson vamps up a wicked PR queen.
But it’s the Pegg’n’Dunst show mostly and it’s a big shame to see such a likeable twosome lost in such ham-fisted material. As Baxter might say, that’s the way it crumbles. Y’know, cookie-wise.
Fluffed satirical targets, a shortfall of required romcom charm, cheap gags and a thoroughly unpleasant ‘hero’ situate How To Lose Friends several floors below the desired Apartment-esque heights.