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flick pick | How to Get Ahead in Advertising 1989
Directed + written by: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Richard E. Grant, Rachel Ward
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: comedy

Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: darkly comic
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5

Plot synopsis Dennis Bagley is a hotshot young advertising executive at one of the top agencies in London. He’s the best there is, and he knows it. He can sell anything to anyone … which is why he can’t for the life of him figure out why he’s having such a hard time with his current product, your basic old zit cream (or “boil” cream, as he calls it).  His boss is breathing down his neck, the impatient client’s threatening to pull the account, and poor Bagley’s so stressed-out about his lack of anything resembling a good idea that he’s starting to see boils everywhere, to the point where it seems quite obvious to everyone around him that he desperately needs to take a break, if he wants to avoid going completely mad. Unfortunately, Bagley just can’t get his mind off boils, despite the urgings of both his wife, Julia, and his boss. One evening, Julia points out that he’s so worked up about it that he’s developed a nasty boil of his own, right where his neck meets his shoulder.  Soon, the boil reveals itself as a nasty, conniving, smooth-voiced, ad-spouting boil – though he talks to Bagley alone, of course.  As Bagley has a crisis of conscience and tries to pull away from his old, consumerist life, the evil boil grows ever larger and more manipulative, thwarting his attempts at redemption and wreaking complete havoc on his sanity.

Review Nobody does crazy as hilariously as Richard E. Grant. As in his delightfully over-the-top, nutty performance in writer-director Bruce Robinson’s first film, the cult classic Withnail and I, Grant again does a fine job of hamming it up in deliriously manic style. Whether he’s playing the frazzled, nerves-shot-to-hell victim of an improbable talking malignant boil or delivering yet another soliloquy to 80s consumerism as an unctuous, materialistic slimeball, Grant is always wickedly, wickedly funny. Subtle acting, it’s not, but Grant’s spot-on performance is exactly what’s needed to make this kind of scathingly-pointed satire work. Sadly, the pacing of the film feels a little off –- the ending arrives so abruptly that it leaves you feeling vaguely off-kilter when the credits suddenly start rolling – but for the most part, Bruce Robinson’s movie does a very entertaining job of skewering both the advertising industry, and a society that allows itself to be so easily duped into coveting things it doesn’t need it all.  While its criticism of rampant commercialism may not be anything new, the way in which it chooses to do so is completely, utterly original. A totally weird, at times brilliant, blackest-of-the-black comedy, How to Get Ahead in Advertising is both very British and deeply, deeply 80s, but somehow, manages to transcend its times. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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