How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989)

Hello all. I’m new here, but not to film. I’ll be putting my two cents in here from time to time on all things cinema or until David and John decide to go all Vincent & Jules on my unrighteous ass. Not everything I post will appeal to you, or even myself sometimes. However, my philosophy is that if you don’t watch really bad films, you will never appreciate the truly great ones.

How To Get Ahead In Advertising (1989)

As much as I enjoy a good trailer, its almost better for me to go into a film knowing absolutely nothing about it. That’s exactly how I went into this one, and I was rewarded with a truly bizarre, manic & hilarious film. Richard Grant plays Denis Bagley, a pitch man for an advertising firm, and a very successful one. He finds himself stuck on an ad for pimple cream, unable to portray it in a way to really hook the public on it. As his stress level rises, his behavior becomes more and more unstable until eventually this mental trauma physically manifests itself as a talking boil on his neck.

Richard Grant’s performance here is nothing short of amazing. I only really know him from his smaller role in the murder-mystery Gosford Park. He is equally hilarious, a smug British asshole and completely insane. Director Bruce Robinson has shockingly only directed 4 films in 25 years. His other efforts are Withnail & I, Jennifer 8 & last year’s The Rum Diary starring Johnny Depp. Robinson handles Bagley’s dementia perfectly, consistently changing perspective keeping the audience on their toes.

Insane performances are some of the most fun the watch, and this is a winner. Grant is totally off his rocker and I couldn’t help but smile as I watched a lot of this. It could be the fact that he’s British, but he seemed absolutely delighted at some of the most disturbing points in the film. This film also feeds into the notion that an “evil twin” always has a mustache or goatee. In the later parts of the film, when the boil’s influence becomes very strong, Bagley sports a rapist mustache and acts very much a prick to everyone.

This film addresses work related stress in a very strange way, but I believe that the heart of this film is anti-consumerism. Our modern society churns out so much useless garbage, sorry, I meant to say products that we can not live without, that we are choking the life out of humanity. We become obsessed with getting the newest gadgets to the point of waiting outside a store overnight just to get a new version of something we already have. For so many people this is what life is about, obtaining. It starts at a young age when advertising executives, like the ones depicted in this film, prey on the blossoming minds of the youth of the earth. Every one of us has fallen victim to this trick during the course of our lives. It’s unavoidable most of the time. The knack is to keep your head and stop listening to that boil on your neck, it doesn’t have anything good to say anyway.

-Wes Kelly


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