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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is literally about "How to Get A HEAD in Advertising." Once a
vigorous advertising agent in his field, able to sell anything to anyone,
Denis Dimbleby Bagley (Richard E. Grant) has suddenly found himself working
himself to death trying to come up with a sales pitch for pimple cream. His
obsession with trying to conquer those bloody boils suddenly leads to an
unexpected epiphany in which Denis, sick of how everything has become so
relentlessly commercialized and every single value of life turned into a
money making venture, decides to give up the advertising trade and wage a
war on the commercialization of life. But, if there's one thing a
revolutionary cannot do freely, it's stand in the way of profiteering.
Denis faces a nemises, the one who wants him to keep on ruthlessly selling (and lying) to the world and stomp out the idealistic and possibly costly ambitions of the born again Denis Bagely. But it is no ordinary nemesis. It is a boil that grows on the his neck, an alter-ego that grew out of Denis's inability to sell everything (i.e. the pimple cream) and his newfound war against advertising. This boil comes to gain it's own personality, it's own voice, and even it's own appearance (it looks exactly like Denis). Everyone thinks that Denis is insane with his talks of a muttering boil on his neck which he engages in conversation with. The boil starts to grow a life of it's own, and even a head of it's own, seeking to stifle Denis before his epiphanies are carried to far, and people start thinking for themselves and so forth.
It is certainly an off-the-wall dark comedy, but an absolutely hilarious one with a valid point about the incessant commercialization about nearly every aspect of life, and one person who recognizes what a load of bullocks it is and tries to rid himself of it as much as he can. The ending makes for a cool finale as boil head Denis is yapping like a proud general riding his horse around unconquered territory about the possibility of amassing the earth and selling the world bit like bit. He ideas so dangerous, yet he is unstoppable and out of control. It is one hilarious movie and certainly an inventive story.
Hilarious, bitter satire of adverising, humanity, and personality. Ad exec Dennis Bagley gets so hung up on boils developing a "boilbusters" ad campaign that he grows a malignant boil which takes on its own personality and eventually takes over the show. Grant is perfect in the lead role, the direction and photography are excellent, and the effects cheap but grotesque. There are so many hilarious scenes, I found myself laughing out loud through most of the film even though I saw it by myself! I love the scene where Bagley explains to his wife why the boil only talks to her when she turns away : "He's waiting for you to do it!" A classic, should be sought out by all fans of sadistic humour(especially British, i.e. League of Gentlemen, Monty Python) .
This movie is a riot. Richard E Grant gives an amazingly intense
performance. His entire role seems to consist of nothing but
brilliantly scabrous monologues. His acerbic take on everything around
him starts at a fever pitch and then giddily topples over into outright
inspired lunacy. See this film if for no other reason than to get a
glimpse of him naked save for a kitchen apron, gleefully stuffing raw
chickens down the toilet drain and all the while explaining, "
Everything I do makes sense, everything i do has a reason!"
I prefer this style of over the top attack much more than the drier and more subtle (!) mode employed by both writer-director Bruce Robinson and Richard E. Grant in their first collaboration, WITHNAIL & I.
The heights of comic outlandishness achieved in HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING is something that is rarely achieved by any film and it is doubly commendable that everything done here ( no matter how tastelessly crazy) still never stoops to the childishly vulgar levels that most American comedies regularly splash about in like mental asylum inmates happily playing with their own feces. Yes, despite everything this film attempts ( and achieves) it still retains a sense of sophistication that shows what thuddingly awful garbage ( i am looking directly at you AUSTIN POWERS, SCARY MOVIE, etc, etc) is usually regarded as the height of comedy.
This is a severely underrated film. Richard Grant's more-than-capable
slimeball antics are put to a very worthy test in this bitter little
about consumerism. It's very British, and very 80's, but its message is
still as universal as ever, and the execution is wickedly original,
affecting, and cough-out-loud funny.
The only negative point about the movie is the occasionally lax direction towards the end, but that's just a quibble.
Overall, this is definitely very cool, and highly recommended to fans of Withnail and I, Network, and Fight Club who want something nice and bitter at the end of the day.
This would make an awesome play...
In Withnail & I, Bruce Robinson made one of the funniest films there
is. Therefore it's always going to be hard for anything else he's made
to equal his debut. However, in How to Get Ahead in Advertising he
comes mighty close.
The reason why Robinson's second film fails to match Withnail & I is because at times it becomes too preachy. There are some great speeches in the film; some wonderful digs at consumerism, but occasionally it descends into uninteresting ranting. Yeah consumerism can turn us into unthinking automatons, and yeah big business is greedy, but you don't really need to point it out so blatantly. We already know this. The film works much better when illustrates the BS or when it jabs at it. It doesn't need to get on its soapbox.
One of my favourite bits in the film is when Bagley (Richard E. Grant) a cocky advertising executive who suddenly loses his magic touch when he has to sell boil cream is listening to a bunch of idiots talking about a newspaper article. As a person who makes a living out of lying, he's appalled that they believe what the press tells them. They then begin to argue (there's a great bit when an Irish priest insists that a woman in a vice den had peanut butter smeared across her tits; it was in the paper so it must be true) and the conversation quickly turns to the boil cream that Bagley has become obsessed with. "They're incurable, all of them. I know that and so does everybody else. Until they get one. Then the rules suddenly change." And then he has a dig at the priest. "They want to believe something works. He knows that, which is why he gets a good look-in with the dying." It's a great scene; it's funny as hell and it also has a good point to make: people consume less out of desire and more out of a desperate sort of hope, or even fear; they hope this product or that product will fill the hole in their lives. They hope it will be the answer to all their problems. And thankfully this scene refrains from the preaching that affects the latter stages. Instead it goes right for the jugular.
But my favourite scene of all is the one with the psychiatrist Bagley has quit his job and developed a hideous boil of his own, one that talks to him and one that has a face. He's talking to the quack with a big bandage on his shoulder. He rants for a while about the way advertisers have ruined television, and then all of a sudden, after silence, the boil speaks. The way it's presented in the film, the boil (at first) has a separate voice to Bagley's. He's not portrayed as Gollum with a satanic pimple; he's not talking to himself. But at the same time you're never really sure whether you're seeing things from Bagley's perspective. He's gone totally crazy, so he may very well be the one saying all this crap. Plus the boil only speaks when Bagley's not looking the other person in the face. But what I love about the scene is the filth the boil speaks and Grant's reactions. His hysteria is hilarious (there's another magnificent bit of hysteria in the film when the boil first 'speaks', Bagley is so shocked that he runs to the kitchen, shaking and spazzing like he's got St Vitus' dance. Grant is amazing at working himself up into a lather). And then the boil asks Bagley to tell the shrink about his grandfather. "My grandfather was caught molesting a wallaby in a private zoo in 1919." "A wallaby?" "It may have been a kangaroo. I'm not sure." "You mean sexually?" "I suppose so. He had his hand in its pouch." I haven't heard dialogue that funny in a long time.
I also love the scene when Bagley is admitted to hospital to have the boil lanced. By now he's completely raving. He's going on and on about the evils of consumerism. So then the boil says, "You commies don't half talk a lot of s***." Magnificent! It's the sort of argument a Daily Mail reader would give. Criticise capitalism and you must be a goddamned Red. However, I can see where the boil is coming from. There are certainly times when Robinson is too militant. Like I said before, he really doesn't need to stand so high on his soapbox. But at the same time the film makes some excellent points. It's just that the film works better when it does it through comedy rather than rhetoric.
Another great scene, one that takes a poke at society's hypocrisy, is when Bagley argues with a feminist who thinks men should bleed. "And I think you're a vegan who eats meat in secret. You see, she doesn't deny it. She's a vegan who eats meat in secret." "I do not eat meat!" "But you'll eat fish, you'll eat fish until the cows come home." "Fish is allowed!" Of course, this enrages Bagley.
But although hypocritical lefties get a kicking too, the film, early on, raises an interesting point. If you're anti-consumerism, how do you spread your message without advertising? It's a bit of a kick in the teeth, that.
However, Robinson is smart enough to know that consumerism is here to stay. The film doesn't end with any hope. All we can look forward to is more advertising, more spending and more products. The world is one magnificent shop, indeed.
I was so drunk the first time I saw the film, arriving very late at night, that I could not believe such a work had ever been produced. I searched for the original title for years, and recommended it widely. Later, when I got in touch with advertising and marketing professionals, I understood that any absurdity in the movie was only apparent. Indeed, it should be exhibited to every student considering an ad career. I still do not know whether it became a cult movie or not, but it certainly is very special for me. The inner conflicts that Bagley is thrown into, excellent lines thorough the movie, inspired camera placements, a certain do-it-yourself look, these things were perfectly blended to create a very intelligent work (with the exact amount of weirdness). Simply astonishing.
How to Get Ahead in Advertising
The best way to get ahead in advertising is to know the devil.
Unfortunately, since the frazzled ad man in this comedy isn't acquitted with Lucifer, he will have to get a head literally.
With a growing concern over the ethical nature of his profession, ad executive Bagley (Richard E. Grant) becomes mentally unhinged.
While struggling to come up with a slogan for a zit cream, his mania is compounded by the appearance of a pustule on his shoulder that has begun to speak to him.
In addition to the power of verbalization, over time, the abnormal abscess develops a mouth, eyes and a face, which is strikingly similar to his own, save for the moustache.
A stimulating and surreal British satire, How To Get Ahead in Advertising is a paradigm of the psychological mindset needed to survive in marketing.
Furthermore, having two heads means there's always someone to make-out with. (Green Light)
If you want nuance, you'll not find it here, subtlety, pah!!! No, it's
laid on with a shovel as advertising executive Richard E Grant
discovers advertising is more shallow than a paddling pool, and like
said pool, if a toddler was unable to contain a lavatorial need, full
of....well,you know what! The trouble is, although we see Grant having
his breakdown, becoming obsessive and growing a boil which becomes his
alter-ego, we do not see his journey, he's dubbed a success by
everyone, but we do not see him succeed. We merely witness the
repercussions of his desultory realisation that he's been part of the
problem, rather than the solution.
The idea of the talking boil is fun, but the scriptwriter/director didn't know whether to make it surreal, knockabout or farce, in the end sticking to what he perceives as satire. I'd have liked the themes to have been developed more - together with the two differing characters within the same body. We each see thousands of commercials on television, commercialisation is everywhere, referees and umpires have ads on their sleeves, I'm expecting the police to have sponsors' names on their trousers when they finally come to get me.
This needed a little more subtlety, more comedy with the beautiful wife, who seemed discomforted by having sex with the brash alter-ego - that could have produced an amusing scene or three.
It's much better that Robert Altman's unsuccessful parody of fashion, Pret-a-Porter, but uses a sledgehammer to lance a boil.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I imagine the handful of other people who have watched this film were
largely, like myself, drawn to it by the desire for something -
anything - that could possibly be as good as Withnail and I.
This is BETTER.
The premise is quite simple. Richard. E Grant plays a disenchanted, unenchanting advertiser, who is not only struggling with his social life, but also with his latest pitch - a new cream to cure boils. After spending a weekend frying his brain over it, he has an epiphany (or a breakdown) and decides that he has finished with advertisement. He shows this by removing every object 'corrupted,' by the industry. Chickens are thawed in the toilet, and televisions drowned in the bath.
If any other writer worked with this plot, the film would be much less interesting. We would see the protagonist discovering what really matters. Love. Giving money to the poor. He would decide to go back to advertising - but this time, with integrity. The last scene would have him doing an advertisement for a charity, before stepping into the loving arms of his wife, Julia.
Of course, it's not any other writer. It's Bruce Robinson. This means insanity. This means genius. This means...talking boils? Yes, that's right. A talking boil. This character - played by Bruce Robinson - hangs about on Richard. E Grant's neck, slowly destroying his life. No one else could lend so tragic an edge to this farcical comedy. Richard E Grant does another effortlessly beautiful turn as the supplanted husband, forced into submission by the malignant pustule controlling his life.
I won't spoil the ending for you - but you must see this film. Like Withnail and I, it only has a couple of large characters. The setting is small and the plot strange. Not an awful lot happens, but you will feel every beautiful insult or idiom sinking into your brain, ready to be used on the next person who cheeses you off.
Its a brave, scathingly funny film that might be an acquired taste. This one definitely needs a memorable quotes section!! For a film made so long ago, its quite an accurate and eerie depiction of what the PR industry has mutated into...
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