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Movie Review

Sidney Young has a way with people. He doesn't have a good way with them. But he does have a way.

As the small time publisher of a meanspirited British tabloid, Sidney lives to mock the hoi polloi. Case in point: His rag's latest issue features a doctored—naked—cover image of the American editor of the Vanity Fair-esque Sharps magazine.

So when that editor, Clayton Harding, rings Sidney for a chat, Sidney braces for a lawsuit (but still addresses Clayton as "Lord Vader"). As it turns out, the world-weary Clayton isn't without a sense of humor—albeit deeply buried—and he offers Sidney a job.

Sidney accepts. And proceeds to take New York City by storm. Which is to say, he unleashes his acerbic personality and inflicts his poor taste and offensive pick up lines upon strangers and co-workers alike.

Sidney's "charm" resembles the arrival of a porcupine (or maybe a pig) at a posh party. But he still secures one ally, fellow Sharps staff writer Alison Olsen. She coaches Sidney on the finer points of celebrity journalism, such as sucking up to power publicists and proudly pounding out puff pieces. Unadulterated adulation, however, just isn't Sidney's thing. Sneering disdain is more his style.

Until, that is, he lays eyes on one Sophie Maes, an up-and-coming actress whose sensuality is matched only by her vacuity. Sophie's unexpected affinity for Sidney ("I'm drawn to sick animals," she tells him) changes the game. If he has any hope for a relationship with the sultry Sophie Maes, he'll have to shelve his smug contempt and play ball.

But even as the secret doorway into high society magically swings open, Sidney realizes that what he really cares about is the relationship with Alison that he's accidentally cultivated along the way.


Positive Elements

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People skewers the self-absorption of celebrity culture. Sidney can be cuttingly judgmental, but he also sees right through superficial veneers. That tendency is initially off-putting to Alison, but she learns to value the fact that Sidney refuses to be wowed by the rich and famous.

Sidney turns down two chances for sex with Sophie Maes; in both instances, he decides not to go that route because of his growing affinity for Alison. As their friendship gradually morphs into something more serious, both Sidney and Alison move from a cynical, sarcastic relationship to one marked by kindness and mutual respect. Sidney encourages Alison's work on a novel, and she defends him when colleagues make snide remarks.

Thus, the film ultimately places value on a real relationship between two (relatively) normal people.

Even Sophie Maes has a moment of clarity as she questions the way her publicist is manipulatively masterminding her career. For his part, Clayton is every inch the hard-bitten, hard-driven career magazine man. But in a couple of scenes he hints to Sidney that the celebrity journalism empire he presides over is essentially empty and meaningless.

Sidney's father, famed philosopher R.C. Young, is concerned about his son's well-being and shows up to check in on him when he doesn't return phone calls. R.C. is gentle and accepting despite Sidney's erratic behavior. Giving career advice to Sidney, he quotes Einstein: "Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value." R.C. also encourages his son to pursue Alison over Sophie Maes.

Sidney's landlady is a woman of old-fashioned sensibilities who remembers a time when people (like Marie Curie) were famous because they did something worthwhile. The film also lampoons an utterly self-involved filmmaker who says ridiculous things like, "I am my role model. I want to be me."

Spiritual Content

Sophie Maes gets nominated for a best actress award for her starring role in ... wait for it ... the NC-17 film Mother Teresa: The Making of a Saint. We see snippets of the trailer which imply that the famous Catholic nun had to give up a passionate love affair before embracing her spiritual calling (which, in case you're wondering, isn't true).

A self-styled "spiritual healer" tells Sidney that he has a "dark aura" and that he should walk barefoot more often. Annoyed with Sidney's obnoxious behavior, Alison asks him, "Do you know the meaning of karma?" Passing reference is made to celebrity culture's resemblance to Sodom and Gomorrah.

Sexual Content

Just when you think an R rating can't be pushed any further, someone comes up with a "creative" way to present explicit images of things audiences have never seen before:

His first night in New York City, Sidney tries to pick up Alison at a bar. She rebuffs him, but Sidney is successful with a buxom woman who seems eager for casual sex. So is Sidney until he sees her removes her pants (off camera) and discovers that she is a he.

In a spectacularly gratuitous scene later, Sidney hires a stripper to perform at work (to embarrass a rival worker). Several shots show her topless before she removes her g-string and everyone (theatergoers included) can very plainly see that it's the same "woman" Sidney met before. We're asked to watch as Sidney—who has noticed that two young girls (perhaps 7 or 8 years old) have wandered into the room—covers the stripper's exposed male genitals with his hand.

Sophie Maes wades through a swimming pool in her evening dress at a party. Her wet, translucent white dress turns her braless form into the center of attention. While drunk at a different party, she wears another very revealing outfit and suggestively tells Sidney that cocaine turns her on. The actress later promises to have sex with him if he gives her a ring (that belonged to his mother) and if she wins the best actress award. At still another soiree, Sidney is in his boxers and Sophie Maes strips down to skimpy lingerie. Sidney crudely announces to Alison that he wants to have sex with Sophie Maes before another guy in the office does. (Alison responds, "You're loathsome.")

We're also shown another woman in bra and panties at Sidney's house, and it's implied that they're sexually involved. We see a bit of Sidney's backside.

Sidney directly asks an actor if he's a homosexual and if he's Jewish. Clayton later instructs Sidney to assume that all male stars he meets are homosexual Jews. From T-shirt slogans to fictitious movie titles to snide jokes, sexual activities and organs are referred to in vulgar, sometimes obscene, terms.

Violent Content

Madcap, slapstick shenanigans turn up repeatedly. One such moment involves a pig Sidney uses to try to sneak into the BAFTA Awards. When the porker gets loose, pig-induced chaos ensues. A similar award-show melee takes place when Sidney decides he wants to retrieve his mother's cherished ring from Sophie Maes' finger—just as she receives her best actress award. Cue wrestling and lots of cake on people's faces.

Sidney watches, horrified, as a large vase crashes down on Sophie Maes' beloved Chihuahua, killing him. We don't see the impact, but we do see the pup's paws sticking out of a bag as Sidney tries to dispose of the evidence.

Crude or Profane Language

About 30 f-words and close to 10 s-words. God's and Jesus' names are taken in vain at least 15 times. (God's name is once combined with "d--n.") We hear a half-dozen crude slang terms for the male anatomy and well over a dozen other vulgarities.

Drug and Alcohol Content

High on cocaine, Sidney takes a nasty fall from atop a stage into some bushes. (Alison is so annoyed that she asks him where it hurts most ... then kicks him in the leg after he answers her.) But he goes back for more drugs when he realizes they could be the key to having sex with Sophie Maes.

In separate scenes during moments of deep disappointment, both Alison and Sidney get very drunk. Alison ends up vomiting a couple of times (once in Sidney's car) and passing out. Sidney wisely keeps Alison from driving under the influence and takes her back to his own home—never mind that he's just been doing coke.

Stars and journalists frequently drink various alcoholic beverages (especially champagne). We hear multiple references to someone's fondness for White Russian mixed drinks. Sidney and Clay smoke cigarettes. Alison asks for a cigarette at one point, even though she doesn't smoke. Cigars also get screen time.

Other Negative Elements

Sidney's pig destroys a hotel room (we see droppings in the wreckage) and urinates on a woman's foot. In a coughing fit, Sidney hacks up, well, something that ends up plastered to a woman's back.


British actor and comedian Simon Pegg is quietly developing a reputation on this side of the pond as someone with a knack for projects that are simultaneously endearing, quirky and edgy, but which still deliver a message ... of sorts. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Run Fat Boy Run are examples of how Pegg manages to fuse an odd kind of sagging-everyman appeal with bits of Mr. Bean, Inspector Clouseau and Benny Hill.

Though the scenery is different in How to Lose Friends & Influence People, the approach is similar. This time, the storyline revolves around a generally obnoxious man whose unlikely journey ushers him into the inner sanctum of the Hollywood hierarchy. Once there, however, he realizes that it has nothing to offer. Furthermore, he sees that he's compromised everything he once valued, and sacrificed a shot at something genuine and good in the process.

Somewhere in there is a great message about how vapid our entertainment culture can be. Unfortunately, that message frequently gets run over by the very vapidity the film is supposedly trying to critique. From Sophie Maes' sexualized flirtations to a stripper exposing both male and female body parts to frequent obscenities to drunkenness and implications of cocaine use, there are plenty of R-rated musclemen eager to bowl over any and all cultural insights.

Dale Carnegie would not approve.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

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Plot Summary

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We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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