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  How To Get Ahead in Advertising The Hard Sell
Year: 1989
Director: Bruce Robinson
Stars: Richard E. Grant, Rachel Ward, Richard Wilson, Jacqueline Tong, John Shrapnel, Susan Wooldridge, Hugh Armstrong, Mick Ford, Pauline Melville, Jacqueline Pearce, Pip Torrens, Tony Slattery, Rachel Fielding, Roddy Maude-Roxby, Francesca Longrigg, Sean Bean
Genre: Comedy, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Dennis Dimbleby Bagley (Richard E. Grant) is a chainsmoking and high flying advertising executive, a young hotshot in the industry who prides himself on being able to sell anything to anyone. However, that adrenaline-pumping lifestyle he has grown accustomed to seems to be catching up with him when he is faced with a contract to sell pimple cream. Fully aware that the manufacturers don't want pimples eradicated completely or else there would be no market for them to sell to, Dennis begins to struggle, not only with his job but with his conscience...

For the follow up to Withnail & I, which at that time was beginning to amass the cult it has today, writer and director Bruce Robinson apparently believed the strongest suit of his debut were the sequences with a ranting Richard E. Grant. With that in mind, if you wanted to see the new star chewing the scenery, then this bizarre satire was the way to go as Robinson gave him free rein as he orchestrates a spectacular nervous breakdown and menacing recovery for his character.

Taking potshots at the consumer society, Robinson conjured up a tale where Dennis's deal with the Devil came back and bit him in the form of a boil on his neck. Dennis is appalled that he should be afflicted so, and quickly becomes obsessed, the blemish developing into the focus of his newfound anti-capitalism as he starts to map out how he can fight back. His wife Julia (Rachel Ward) is increasingly concerned, then alarmed, about this turn of events, and plots to get her husband professional help for his encroaching mania.

Imagine Dennis's horror when the boil gets bigger and begins to grow recognisable features: a face. And then starts talking to him, with others beiong able to hear it as well which is particularly embarrassing when you consider how unpleasant a personality the boil has (voiced by Robinson himself). All through this Grant is able to run wild, literally in some respects, as crude but effective special effects bring his alter ego to life. It's a remarkable performance, one which in many ways equals his Withnail, and his director appears to be gleefully egging him on from the sidelines.

The film must have made an impression on Grant as he used an image from it - Dennis encasing his head in a cardboard box so the boil won't hear him - for the cover of his autobiography. And in truth it's one of his best roles, but how do its politics shape up? The whole premise is that once you are able to sell people anything they will buy everything: everything has a price tag on it and the world will be laid to waste as greed takes over. No one seems to notice this in the film except Dennis and the boil which eventually dominates and replaces him, so that even the token trendy lefty is a figure of ridicule. Robinson offers no solutions, only a warning... buy now, pay later. Music by David Dundas and Rick Wentworth.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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