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How to Get Ahead in Advertising Movie Review

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Once upon a time, Bruce Robinson was an actor. He played Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet and co-starred with Isabelle Adjani in The Story of Adele H…. Many years later, he won an Oscar nomination for writing The Killing Fields and in 1987 he directed his first movie, Withnail and I, starring Richard E. Grant. That film, like How to Get Ahead in Advertising, was produced by George Harrison. If his scripts are any indication, Robinson's eclectic life has served him well. The intensity of his dialogue suggests years of angry simmering and he wastes no time now getting straight to the point: advertising is the root of all evil. The less said about how Robinson develops this theme, the better, since I nearly took a pass on the film when I heard the plot. As Robinson showed with his debut feature, though, he knows exactly where and how he's going, most of the time. How to Get Ahead would make an insane double bill with a similarly themed Cary Grant comedy from 1948, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. The frustration of both ad men elicits hilarity, but where Mr. Blandings is lulled into security with Myrna Loy's Mrs. Blandings in post-war Connecticut, Richard E. Grant's character is so consumed by his profession that even the compassionate Rachel Ward is unable to retrieve him. Robinson's script is a raging polemic by film's end, which is a visual drag especially since the force of his argument has already been conveyed so well by the ad man's internal struggle for his own soul. Still, the sharpness of Robinson's language as well as Richard E. Grant's dazzling transformation make How to Get Ahead in Advertising one of the most original and bracing British comedies of the late 1980s.

1989 (R) 95m/C GB Richard E. Grant, Rachel Ward, Susan Wooldridge, Mick Ford, Richard Wilson, John Shrapnel, Jacqueline Tong; D: Bruce Robinson; W: Bruce Robinson; C: Peter Hannan; M: David Dundas, Rick Wentworth. VHS, LV

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