Posted: 01/11/2011


How to Get Ahead in Advertising

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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How to Get Ahead in Advertising in a funny but sometimes corny exploration of the insane world of advertising, as seen through the eyes of a British ad man named Dennis Bagley, played by Richard E. Grant. It is a cult classis from Handmade Films that “skewers the advertising industry with and without pity.”

Bagley is a slick and cynical ad man who could sell shampoo to a bald man. He believes that you always sell a product that will just about fix the trick; that way they will always be room for the next, improved product. He’s on the top of the world, but has been feeling pressure lately at work during a particular campaign.

At the brink of a writer’s block and right before a major pitch for a boil (or zit) ointment, Bagley nearly goes off the edge. As his anxieties escalate, his worries manifest as an evil twin head growing out of his neck. This boil can only be seen by Bagley and is the source of much confusion for others around him. At first, the boil is friendly but then grows frustrated and wants to branch out on his own. As the scene gets more bizarre, the boil and Bagley switch places and are talking for each other. Soon the boil starts speaking to Bagley’s wife, played by Rachel Ward, and she thinks it’s Dennis speaking. By the time he gets to therapy, it is suggested that he lance the boil, but it only returns.

Bagley is confined to the house for a while, but when he finally goes out, his neck is wrapped in bandages, as he tries to keep everything covered. His wife tries to keep everything under cover about his condition to her friends, but she becomes more freaked out when the boil starts making suggestive sexual comments around her. The boil sort of bursts at a cocktail party one night, when Bagley dances with another woman but is not in control of the situation.

In the end, Bagley and his wife must make important decisions that have nothing to do with advertising. Rolling Stone has called How to Get Ahead in Advertising “a vigorous, cheerfully outrageous British satire.” I liked the movie, as I am a public relations professional. It was on point with the madness that is called advertising and the many tricks that ad men use to subliminally sell anything to anyone watching the “boob tube.”

For a glimpse into why “two heads are better than one,” check out How to Get Ahead in Advertising which is available January 11 from Image Entertainment. For more information visit

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.

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