Screenwriters: Peter Straughn
Starring: Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges, Megan Fox, Gillian Anderson, Danny Huston
Running Time: 110 mins
When making a comedy about the most obnoxious man on the planet, and you don't want to lose box office and alienate people, then it's always a good idea to cast someone inherently likeable. Simon Pegg certainly ticks that box, having used self-effacing humour to win us over in cheeky Brit-coms like Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and Run, Fat Boy, Run. This time he plays an arrogant journo non-grata, inspired by the same-titled memoirs of Toby Young, but even in this off-putting guise, his willingness to look very, very silly is totally endearing.
Names have been changed, we’re told, 'to protect the innocent and not-so innocent'. Hence, Toby Young becomes Sidney Young (Pegg), a showbiz hack who embarks on a hunt for glory by cheerfully slating A-List stars in his too-cool Post-Modern Review magazine. He isn’t just looking for scoops though. In an ironic twist to his psychological makeup, Young regularly crashes red carpet events merely to bask in the reflected glow of the rich and famous. In one titter-worthy scene, he jumps the velvet rope posing as a minder for Babe the Pig. Apparently, the pig is an impostor too, but at least he has an excuse: he's a pig. Young only acts like one.
Inevitably, Young's outrageous antics make him a notorious hate figure among the London elite and even more so for their cosseting PR people. So when he gets head-hunted by Clayton Harding, editor of Sharps - a New York glossy based on Vanity Fair - he doesn't think twice before jumping on a plane. Harding may barely crack a smile (the brilliant Jeff Bridges playing it like 'The Dude' on downers), but he does see the funny side of Young's scathing reportage. He is one of the few as it turns out. Everyone else on the magazine is a showbiz schmoozer, bowing to the whims of self-important celebs and their PR gurus to land their cover story. That realisation alone is enough to make Young suddenly look like the nicest guy at the buffet table.
When he coughs up his half-chewed lunch on the Daz-white designer coat of the boss's daughter, or inadvertently kills the pet pooch of Hollywood's hottest starlet (Megan Fox), it isn't only funny but guiltily satisfying too. It's the kind of devilish comedy that brings the beast out in all of us. And there are more cunning moments as well. Director Robert Weide has a deft touch with subtle, social faux pas, having worked for years on landmark sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm (and proving it's not just a British hang-up). A classic scene in the office corridor sees Young attempt a kindly gesture by pretending not to notice when the boss's daughter tumbles off her high heels. It is priceless. But it does also exemplify how the broad comic set-ups generally overshadow that more sophisticated, between-the-lines humour.
Another of the more flagrant Hollywood touches is a burgeoning romance between Young and a staff writer played by Kirsten Dunst. It lends the story shape, whereas the book was a collection of episodes, but it also feels like a rather too obvious way of softening the ragged edges of Young's personality. In fact, Pegg's performance and the quality of Peter Straughn's writing are strong enough that it isn't necessary. Thankfully, any soppiness is avoided and there are other poisonously zingy turns to relish, like Gillian Anderson as a humourless publicist and Danny Huston playing a sleazy section editor. Altogether it's a rib-tickling riot of brown-nosing and backstabbing which, despite the title, will leave you with a happy glow.