How to Stop Being a Loser review (DVD)

James is the eponymous virginal loser; a self-acknowledged geek who spends hours on his computer, socially inept and perennially single. His best friend Ian is similarly challenged – in mid life, he admits on his cameraphone that he’s not even kissed a woman since he was 18 and after one last, doomed attempt to chat someone up jumps under a train. At the funeral James (Simon Philips) vows to uphold Ian’s wish not to remain alone himself – he sets out to find someone who can teach himself how to be a success with women and hooks up with Ampersand (Craig Conway), a professional pick-up artist who promises to educate in the mysteries of love.

As an indie  Brit rom-com it should work, but it falls painfully flat at almost every step of the way. The opening sequence, with James cycling to work through a park and down some busy streets to the soundtrack of Wheatus’s “Teenage Dirt Bag”, has irritating arrows overlaid pointing at James and labelling him “nerd”, “dork” and “loser”. It’s unnecessarily obvious, given the title, and a tad patronising in its suggestion that viewers can’t figure this out for themselves. The opening scene proper holds out promise with Richard E. Grant and Jill Halfpenny in a classy vignette as the suicidal Ian attempting to chat up the woman on the train station’s platform. But it’s over in two minutes and then it’s largely downhill.

Indeed, the best bits are the cameo performances – particularly Martin Kemp as the oily Zeus, author of the book the film takes its title from and surrounded by babes and champagne, and Sheridan Smith as one of James’s dates. Philips and Conway, plus Leonidas and Compston, who play James’s friends, all turn in good performances despite struggling with a patchy script. There’s also some solid acting from Colin Salmon in the role of James’s psychiatrist, but the framing of James’s journey by using flashbacks to his romantic journey seem pointless.

The film’s premise is clearly based on the infamous American self-help book, The Game, which purports to teach men how to pick up women, and it’s also trying to pitch itself at the level of Something About Mary, viz the gag where James attempts to chat up a woman in the supermarket by peering into her basket and asking about her periods. The thing is, the Americans do that kind of film so much better than we do – the writers should have set about creating a quintessentially British film instead because we can do sweet and romantic, just ask Richard Curtis and Hugh Grant.

James does get the girl in the end, not the blond bombshell former classmate he sets out to snare but his best friend Patch (Leonidas), who has been in love with him all along. It’s a standard film cliché but while in a Curtis film you’d be rooting for the anti-hero, with Loser I just kept wishing James would throw himself under a train too.

Loser simply tries too hard and it overstays its 90-minute welcome by a good 20 minutes. I struggled to hold my attention throughout because of the generally unlikeable characters, unoriginal plot and lumpen direction. And I didn’t laugh once, not good for a comedy. One to give a wide berth.

EXTRAS ★★ Commentary featuring Craig Conway and Pick Up Artist; premiere red carpet interviews.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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