How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989)
Available on Blu Ray from Arrow Films
Dennis Bagley (Richard E Grant) is a talented advertising executive who is struggling to come up with a campaign for a new spot cream. The stress of the task makes him snap, causing him to reject his advertising lifestyle. He also starts to develop a nasty boil (voiced by writer and director Bruce Robinson) on his shoulder, perhaps a physical manifestation of his stress. As the boil starts to talk, initially spouting advertising voiceovers, and take on more human characteristics Bagley’s sanity is called in to question. Can he stop the boil before it overcomes him completely?
How to get Ahead in Advertising rests mostly upon the shoulders of Richard E Grant and it is certainly his movie. From the opening long take as he lectures a group of people around a boardroom table, the camera panning around as he walks, he is a magnetic presence. As he starts to lose his mind and his boil affliction begins to grow then he is a lot of fun. Nobody does wild eyed, unhinged lunacy quite like Richard E Grant, his eyeballs popping and his wide grin conveying an amusing madness, and his almost rubber face brings huge laughs as he milks the physical comedy. It is a shame that he does not appear in films so much anymore as he is a very enjoyable comic talent. The film only slightly plays with the idea that it is all in his head, an aspect which doesn’t quite work as well as it could have, before exploding into full on body changing madness. The Monty Python meets David Cronenberg absurdity of the film is where it has the most fun, mining a silly body horror idea for a lot of humour.
The film slightly falters in its final third as the boil starts to take more control and the film’s message starts to get pressed up to the screen and some of the absurd fun starts to wane. Unfortunately, the film sputters to an ending which is a little too on the nose, beating you with a well performed and shot ending monologue, which is too heavy with the anti-advertising message. Instead of a fight against the alter ego, which we are perhaps expecting more, we are given something fairly underwhelming. It’s a shame as, for the most part, How to Get Ahead in Advertising is a lost little British comedy gem, with a fun and magnetic performance from Richard E Grant, and with a strange, amusing and unusual plot at its centre.
The Blu Ray version How to Get Ahead in Advertising is included in the Arrow Films Limited Edition release of Withnail and I, and comes with a directors commentary and trailer.