How to Get Ahead in Advertising

Year: 1989

Synopsis: An advertising executive has a nervous breakdown and crisis of conscience while trying to create a campaign for a new pimple cream, developing a rather verbose boil in the process.

Pros:
• Richard E. Grant went all the way in his dual role as a manically flipped ad exec and psychopathic alter ego (the boil).
• While structured as an over the top satire, was more an effective parody of the body horror genre.
• The surrealist undertones helped to subtly fuel the madness.
• Left somewhat ambiguous if the boil genuinely took over via becoming a “new” head or was just an elaborate manifestation of a split personality.
• Highlighted how extremist views can be fueled by a sensitive ego instead of reality.
• Suggested elements of today’s #MeToo movement, showing how not only the misogynistic behavior was overlooked, but also how it was possible for women to escape that madness.

Cons:
• Was perhaps a bit too ridiculous and over the top at many points in the film.
• Could be more dryly clever than laugh out loud hilarious at times.
• The grotesque body horror theme was not necessarily for everyone.
• While not forced, the ending felt sudden and too open ended.

Discussion:
In 1960, The Twilight Zone aired “A Stop at Willoughby.” The episode featured an advertising executive being pushed to the brink psychologically. The “hero” began having vivid dreams of escape on his train ride home, Willoughby. Well, it turned out that was just a name of a funeral home that just happened to be the the exec’s eternal last stop. In some ways, Bagley (Grant) was far more strongly willed with a more supportive wife and boss. Unfortunately for Bagley, the part of him that wanted to sell everything to people could not abide by him finding his conscience, so that more amoral side of him forced its way into existence. How to Get Ahead in Advertising was a story about extremes, and how grotesquely destructive it can be when one is followed more than the other.


Rotten Tomatoes — 57%

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