How to Get Ahead in Advertising

Richard E. Grant, Rachel Ward

Directed by Bruce Robinson
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 0
Community: star rating
5 0 0
March 29, 1990

Steve Martin communed with his nose in Roxanne, Michael Caine lectured his severed fingers in The Hand, and in the upcoming Me and Him Griffin Dunne chats up his penis. But not until this vigorous, cheerfully outrageous British satire has a character ever argued with a nasty boil on his neck. Worse, the boil sasses back.

The pustule in question has risen on Dennis Bagley, a London advertising whiz who harvests a fortune for his clients by playing on the public's fear of dandruff, piles, bad breath and the like. One day Bagley, played with rousing wit by Richard E. Grant, hits a block. He can't find a way to sell a new pimple cream. His wife, the lovely Rachel Ward, counsels patience. After all, Bagley's huckstering has earned him a country home, cars, horses and the confidence to be insolent to friends, associates and even his boss, given a mad sparkle by Richard Wilson.

But when no ideas come, Bagley begins to blame his profession for his woes. He resigns his dehumanizing job in revulsion. That's when the boil swells into action, taking on human features, sprouting a mustache and haranguing Bagley to get back to business. The clever carbuncle even starts planning a family vacation in Paris. Bagley's shrink sees the skin eruption as his patient's dark side asserting itself. Hospitalized to have the vile inflammation surgically removed, Bagley battles the boil for control. I don't want to give away too much, but in a startling role reversal, the boil — now calling the shots — also starts wearing the pants. After returning to work, the new Bagley is eager to exploit the pimpled masses for profit, his conscience now merely a blabbermouthed blemish he can gag with a bandage.


Actor turned writer-director Bruce Robinson (he costarred with Grant last year in the well-received Withnail and I) isn't unique in bemoaning the commercialization of contemporary life, though he has found an original way of getting a familiar point across. Until the end, when Robinson allows the lunacy to run into rant, the provocative Advertising adds up to frightful good fun. That is, if you're not put off by accepting a preening pocket of pus as a leading man.


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