A pop at media vanity
HOWTO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE
THERE IS a great deal to enjoy in this amusing roman à clef based on British journalist Toby Young’s best-selling memoir of his rather less than glorious two years as a contributing editor of the prestigious magazine Vanity Fair in New York.
For obvious reasons Young’s sardonic story of decline and fall has been smartly fictionalised by screenwriter Peter Straughan.
He has given the book’s series of autobiographical vignettes an effective narrative arc which neatly takes celebrity-obsessed Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) from the creative chaos of co-editing the Post Modern Review magazine in London to New York when Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), editor of the celebrated Sharps magazine, unexpectedly offers Young a job.
Young’s optimistic bite of the Big Apple turns out to be a hilarious succession of comic faux pas, social catastrophes that have Harding dubbing him the magazine’s “very own idiot savant — without the savant”. Despite his frequent disasters, Young still manages to romance his colleague Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst) — but she prefers another staffer.
Young has been triply lucky with a film whose director, screenplay and key casting could hardly be better. Pegg is perfect casting for the accidentprone celebrity hound and Bridges is very funny in a delicious riff on his laid-back stoner character from the The Big Lebowski.
It is hardly a masterpiece, but still good clean, and sometimes enjoyably dirty fun.
THE KEY question is this. Does this English Heritage-drenched film of Evelyn Waugh’s classic 1945 novel match up to the landmark 1980s ITV mini-series. Regrettably, the answer is no.
Having worked (in a very lowly capacity) on the TV series, I find director Julian Jarrold’s film perhaps more faithful to the novel’s religious themes, but a much lighter, lesser piece of work, and, compared with the miniseries, seriously under-cast.
The story begins at Oxford in 1925 where undergraduate Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) is befriended by louche young aristocrat Sebastian Flyte (Ben Wishaw) who draws him into his privileged home life. There Ryder falls for Flyte’s sister Julia (Hayley Atwell) only to find himself increasingly at odds with the family’s preoccupation with privilege and Catholicism.
Goode is good enough but hardly outstanding, Wishaw is irritating and more mannered than his character, leaving Emma Thompson as his mother Lady Marchmont and chatelaine of the ancestral home Brideshead to give easily the best performance. Michael Gambon impresses as Sebastian’s father but, like the leads, the majority of the acting is serviceable but little more.
The costumes and period trimmings are fine, as is Castle Howard which, as in the television series, stands in for Brideshead. A visit to Venice (not in the original) is included presumably to attract American audiences with a love for the picturesque.
But in the end, this Brideshead emerges as better suited to the small screen than the cinema.
Klutzy Simon Pegg, dubbed an idiot savant “without the savant”