How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989)


There are some films that are just masterpieces, but are very rarely recognized as one. I previously reviewed Bedazzled, one of the most underrated films ever made, and definitely one of the funniest British films I’ve ever seen. I am sure you can imagine the incredible sense of bewilderment when the next film I watched was of equal brilliance. Another British dark comedy about materialism, How To Get Ahead in Advertising is one of the most delightfully twisted films I’ve ever seen, and one that, much like Bedazzled, has shot up right to the top of my list of favorites. Only one other film has managed to squeeze into my Top Ten on the first watch – Targets, the brilliant Boris Karloff swan song. Turns out, How to Get Ahead in Advertising is just so great, it was impossible for me not to instantly love it, and even upon two rewatches, it is still a magnificent film.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Robinson’s opus, Withnail and I. I thought it was tremendously funny, and had moments of transcendent brilliance. However, it had its very serious flaws, but that is the topic of another review (could it be the review of Withnail and I? You’ll have to wait and see!). However, Robinson was out in full-force with How to Get Ahead in Advertising. There is so much to adore about it, and its quite difficult to encapsulate my passion for this film without waffling on – but if that is what needs to happen, then so be it!

Its a common fact that a film’s script is only as good as the actors performing it. How to Get Ahead in Advertising has a remarkbly funny script, but let me be perfectly frank here – almost all of that was due to Richard E. Grant’s mind-blowing performance. It is a performance for the ages – you know how Marlon Brando is remembered for The Godfather, and Peter O’Toole is iconic as Lawrence of Arabia? Well, Grant’s performance as Denis Dimbleby Bagley stands amongst those, in my humbly exagerrated opinion. He truly acts every ounce out of this film. He shows incredible range that many other actors would struggle with – his manic energy, his wide-eyed nervousness, his sly sarcasm and his insane ability to go absolutely crazy create an unforgettable performance. Both his opening and ending monologues are spine-chillingly good.
On its own, the first act of the film would be spectacular. A simple attack against the advertising industry, it was funny, poignant and unique. It didn’t need to get weird, but it most certainly did, and that just made it even more brilliant – how many filmmakers will take the risk of having a talking boil grow on the neck of our protagonist and still keep the film brilliant? Well, to be perfectly honest, How to Get Ahead in Advertising is understandably divisive – it isn’t a film for everyone. If someone complains that this film is juvenile or disturbing, they wouldn’t be wrong. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a film being juvenile, as long as the childishness is contained and controlled. There are some scenes that could reproduce laughter, or nausea. I am lucky enough to belong to the former category, althought those in the latter have every right to be apprehensive. That’s not to say this is a bad, or even mediocre, film. It is a divisive masterpiece, just like a great film should be, because when the common consensus is that a film is praised almost universally, intense hatred will arise out of those who feel it is even slightly overrated.

Why doesn’t How to Get Ahead in Advertising show up more on lists of great films? That’s a question I’m not quite sure of. Surely it should – it was a unique and very funny film. I think it is too off-beat and strange to be fully appreciated when it came out, but I think there is a small, but growing, cult base for this film, and I think a resurgence of this film, catapaulting it into cult popularity is very due, and I will do every part to get this film more fans. It is one of the great lesser-seen British comedy films of all time, and is also one of the smartest comedies I’ve ever seen.

If David Cronenberg made a Monty Python film, it would be this. Hilarious, disturbing and absolute fun, How to Get Ahead in Advertising is one of the best films I’ve seen this year, and I will certainly be watching it again for a third time, if only for the beautifully profound monologue Grant delivers with supreme acting abilities. Its a truly great film, and I truly do believe you should check it out if you haven’t. If you have seen it…watch it again. Its a great film.


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