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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2000
Richard E. Grant as Bagley brings to the film both his best and most outrageous performance. As the slick advertising salesman, Bagley is the cold-hearted business man who would see his own mother lose all her teeth if he thought it would sell more denture cream. The brilliant opening scene has him announcing that we want to sell them 30% less [of fat] and 20% more [of nutrition]; they are selling an image and idea, not a product! Bagley begins to second guess his profession and when the idea of having to come up with a boil cream begins to make his conscience ill, he opts to quit in pursuit of higher ideals.
It is then, that the supernatural takes over, and Bagley gets a boil on his neck that he believes has begun to turn into a face, causing him to go utterly insane to the horror of his wife who sees nothing but the boil. The insanity multiplies and the boil becomes Bagley's evil advertising alter-ego, and the insanity delves into the depths of all that is great in British black humour.
The boil-alter-ego finally takes over the reformed Bagley identity, and Bagley becomes much worse than he'd ever been.
The script is poignant, if not a little bit preachy on the evils of advertising. But Richard E. Grant gives his heart and soul to make the character fully dimensional and incredibly funny. His insanity is put in perfect perspective by his wife, played sublimely by Rachel Ward, who is as supportive and understanding as she can to a husband who seems to have gone over the brink.
For the originality, commentary, wittiness, acting, quotable dialogue, and pure insanity, this has been one of my favourite movies ever. It's no Citizen Kane (do people really like that movie, anyway! ), but it is without a doubt a must-see, just for the experience!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 22, 2001
HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING is a wonderfully over-the-top piece of hilarious satire. The always entertaining Richard E. Grant plays a stressed-out advertising executive who finally snaps and begins arguing with a head that conveniently grows out of his shoulder. As this was written and directed by Bruce Robinson (the same man behind WITHNAIL & I) you can be sure that every line of dialogue sounds like obscene poetry and Grant delivers each of these with exactly the right amount of pure manic energy.
The humor present here is very dark, and at times could be described as disturbing, so this may not be for everyone's tastes. Obviously, a comedy that centers around an ordinary man accidentally growing a second head isn't going to be something that's geared towards everyone's liking, but if you enjoy off-beat humour and outrageous satire, then this is probably something that will delight you. There's certainly a lot to recommend: the acting is wonderful, the direction is very assured and the writing sparkles. This is one of the few films in which it is almost impossible to predict what will be happening next. Sharply critical of advertising, capitalism, industry, commerce, and half a dozen other subjects, this is something that will make you think in the few moments when it isn't making you laugh.
DVD notes: The film is presented in wide-screen. It looks great and sounds just as good. There isn't much of anything in the way of extras, though it does contain the original theatrical trailer.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 1999
If dark comedy is your forte, do not miss this witty and outrageously funny offering from Hand Made Films! Richard E. Grant portrays Dennis Bagley, a brilliant young advertising executive whose downfall is caused by his latest glamorous account: pimple cream. He desperately needs a clever new ad campaign, but his mind is one big blank. Despite support from his lovely wife (Rachel Ward), Dennis cracks. His unblemished career is about to break out in chaos, just like the annoying pimple that has broken out on the side of his neck. To save his sanity, Dennis quits his job. But his neuroses, like his strange pimple, keep growing. Soon, what ensues is a hilarious chain of events that has the viewer wondering who's really in charge of Dennis' life! This movie is one of many by this-then relatively obscure English film company, that is as well made and it is well cast, as it is outrageously funny! Not to be missed by fans of dark comedy, this film is sure to find it's way into your private library. An excellent comedy, you can enjoy over and over again! Don't miss it!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2006
This movie is a riot. Richard E Grant gives an amazingly intense performance. His entire role seems to consist of nothing but brilliantly scabrous monologues. His acerbic take on everything around him starts at a fever pitch and then giddily topples over into outright inspired lunacy. See this film if for no other reason than to get a glimpse of him naked save for a kitchen apron, gleefully stuffing raw chickens down the toilet drain and all the while explaining, " Everything I do makes sense, everything i do has a reason!"

I prefer this style of over the top attack much more than the drier and more subtle (!) mode employed by both writer-director Bruce Robinson and Richard E. Grant in their first collaboration, WITHNAIL & I.

The heights of comic outlandishness achieved in HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING is something that is rarely achieved by any film and it is doubly commendable that everything done here ( no matter how tastelessly crazy) still never stoops to the childishly vulgar levels that most American comedies regularly splash about in like mental asylum inmates happily playing with their own feces. Yes, despite everything this film attempts ( and achieves) it still retains a sense of sophistication that shows what thuddingly awful garbage ( i am looking directly at you AUSTIN POWERS, SCARY MOVIE, etc, etc) is usually regarded as the height of comedy. This film knocks them all dead.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 31, 2004
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film.

"How to Get Ahead in Advertising" in one of the most original comedies I have seen. The humor ranges from the shocking, to the surrealistic, to slapstick.

The film is about Dennis Bagley, an advertising agent trying to come up with a slogan for a skin ointment that removes boils.

He is so stressed from time pressure that he grows a boil on his right shoulder. Then one day when he is asleep two talking cartoon birds fly put of his chimney and into his TV set. This marks when fantasy becomes reality. The boil begins growing a face and begins talking! Things get realy bad after this but I do not want to ruin the surprise.

The acting in this film is better and is well-rehearsed. The film does have much strong language earning it an R rating. Watch the movie yourself before deciding to let your teenage children watch it.

The only special feature on the DVD is a theatrical trailer.

It is currently out of print and ususally sells for more than twice it's original retail price. The DVD was taken out of print more recently so more copies were made of this release than other out of print Criterion DVD's. Bootlegs of this are more rare and the film has been re-released on a non-criterion edition by MGM home video.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2002
Well Bruce Robinson has done it again. After engaging us with classic 'Withnail and I' he has produced a prophetic film that says more about the way we live and those that cynically take advantage of the consumerist treadmill than 'Fight Club'. The passionate dialogues in the screenplay give an insight into Robinson himself and his view of where the global society is headed.
The performance of Grant as Bagnel, the schizophrenic advertising executive, is a masterpiece. Rachel Ward's performance is a little wooden but the rest of the cast are able to carry her along with them convincingly enough.
Let me warn you. Don't watch this if you're not prepared for it to make a lasting and life changing impact on your psyche. You'll never view an advertisement the same after seeing this picture. You may even find yourself with your head in a cardboard box making a video on global warming and carbon sinks -just like Bagnel. Get the local school to do a amateur production or even a rock eisteddfod on 'How to Get Ahead..'.
Considering this was made in 1989 the messages are brilliantly insightful and more relevant given recent global events. A modern classic.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2000
If you like British humour, this is definitely it. I was rolling off the sofa laughing, because this film is full of crazy ideas and obnoxious British-ness. You will feel with the wife, Julia, as her husband gets more and more absurd due to a pimple on his neck talking to him, and you will love him for his funky approach to life. I had rented this video before, by accident (it bears a completely different name in Germany, which is no way related to the English one), and it has become one of the movies you'll put on if you have friends over who ask for something seriously stupid.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 2, 2001
Writer-directer Bruce Robinson and Richard E. Grant team up again in this decidedly dark and farcical look at TV advertising. This time Grant is brilliant, driven, young ad-exec Dennis Bagley who is brought down when his mind goes blank while trying to think up a clever campaign for a pimple cream. Rachel Ward is his supportive wife. But her love is not enough to stave off his breakdown. Grant snaps, quits his job and finally, slowly loses his sanity when a small pimple on his neck becomes another head that eventually takes over his life. A head that only he -- and we -- can see. This is a ferocious film of extremes that skewers our narcissistic, media-driven culture. Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2009
Imagine a world where corporations pay lots of money to men who in turn advertise their products by deceiving and manipulating people. In the city where I live alongside every major street or highway are so many billboards they crowd out the sky. Privately owned television stations run almost as many ads as they do programming, and even then the programming is often just another form of advertisement. History, art, and genuine cultural expressions are appropriated to sell products or "entertainment", i.e. profit-based fun. Game shows promote and exploit greed. People are turned into consumers. Culture(or lack of it) is manufactured, identities can be bought in malls, and ideologies become bumper stickers. Anything meaningful is transformed into an accessory with a price tag, and if it can't be sold is discarded. This movie is not a fairy tale that will make you feel secure, and it doesn't come with a happy ending to comfort you. Instead it strips that fantasy of it's glossy image and tells you that reality is not a commodity to be owned, it tells you that it's the way we interact with the world that makes us who we are, and that if it's just about keeping it all for yourself then it's a very shallow existence. It encourages us to examine the way in which a profit-based economy and consumerist mindset dictate the way we live, and how the freedom to choose between products is not the same as freedom. In doing so it gives you something much more meaningful that can't be made into a possession, and it does so in a way that is sincere, funny, and powerful. But it's not without hope, it makes clear that rejection of greed-driven philosophy can allow us to pursue a vision of a "better" world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2012
Well first off if you don't care for dry British humor than this movie is not for you. The late Beatle George Harrison was one of the Executive Producers of this movie. I had not seen this movie in years and just had to have it on DVD. I had forgotten actually just how funny it was. This movie is totally off the wall in a manner of speaking here. And expect the unexpected at all times when viewing. Would I recommend this movie to the masses? Probably not because like I said here if you do not like dry British humor this movie is not for you. If you are a fan of the late Benny Hill or Monty Python than you will like this for sure. For me, I give it 5 stars across the board.
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