By Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald
Toby Young’s memoir about climbing up — and then sliding rapidly down — the ladder at Vanity Fair makes an engaging transition to the screen, thanks to a lively adaptation that embellishes greatly on Young’s story but preserves the central fish-out-of-water theme and biting commentary on celebrity obsession.
Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) stars as Young, a British tabloid journalist who scams his way into parties of the rich and famous (in one case, he arrives at the BAFTA awards with a pig he claims is the star of Babe to ooze his way past the velvet rope). Young’s exploits capture the attention of editor Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges, playing the film version of Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter), who offers him a job in Manhattan.
The cocky Young thinks he’s hit the big time, but as he continues to humiliate himself and anger everyone in a 20-mile radius, he begins to wonder if this lofty position is truly the job of his dreams. He enjoys proximity to beauties like Sophie Maes (Megan Fox), a gorgeous but vacuous starlet whose Chihuahua he inadvertently kills, but he’s less thrilled with writing glowing pieces about untested Tarantino wannabes who disdainfully proclaim, “I am my role model.”
Pegg is an inspired choice to play Young; he’s likable even when he’s being impossibly boorish and makes a good foil for his co-worker love interest Alison (Kirsten Dunst), who’s writing a novel on the side and is secretly unhappy about dedicating herself to puff pieces on celebrities. But it’s not just the stars the film skewers; it also mocks the magazine, which lavishes pages of airbrushed photos and stories to feed powerful egos — and get writers into good parties.
Screenwriter Peter Straughan deftly lifts a few tidbits straight from the book, such as the scene in which a clueless Young asks a musical comedy star if 1. he’s Jewish and 2. he’s gay. The real Young did just that — to Nathan Lane. In both reality and fiction, his editor screamed, ”Just assume they’re all Jewish and gay!” While he clearly alienated plenty of bigshots, Young provides a scathing look at an intriguing, insular world. This film, directed by Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Robert Weide, makes an entertaining companion piece to his book.
Cast: Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Megan Fox, Jeff Bridges, Danny Huston, Gillian Anderson
Director: Robert B. Weide
Screenwriter: Peter Straughan. Based on the book by Toby Young.
Producers: Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley
An MGM release. Running time: 110 minutes. Language, some graphic nudity, brief drug use. Playing at area theaters.