The Secret of My Success (1987)
The Fox Guide to Success
Please God, help me get out of this. I swear I'll go all over the world telling people not to screw the boss's wife - Brantley Foster
Fed up of life on his parent's Kansas farm, Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox - Teen Wolf) decides to head to the big city in search of a high powered corporate job and a swanky penthouse. But having failed to secure his dream position, and living in a rat infested apartment, he is forced to contact his rich uncle, who offers him a job in his corporation's mailroom. But when he falls for Christy Wills (Helen Slater - Ruthless People) an attractive junior executive, he realises that he has to do something about his lowly position and starts masquerading as the corporation's new executive hoping to impress her whilst also holding down his job in the mailroom.
To be honest the underlying plot to "The Secret of My Success" feels somewhat familiar and you only need to look at the Broadway show/movie "How to Succeed in Business without really trying" as well as "Working Girl" to see more than a few striking similarities. But it is not the lack of originality which really causes any problems it is the lack of any real depth to the plot which slightly mars the movie's overall enjoyment. Every element of the story, from the romance through to Brantley's drive and determination to succeed has been scripted so thinly that at times it feels that the screenwriters were in a hurry to knock out a rather average script, relying on the likeability of Michael J. Fox to make it a success. In fact "The Secret of My Success" has such little regard for any serious depth, that when Brantley unknowingly starts having relations with his aunt the whole moral aspect of this scenario is skimmed over.
But despite the lack of depth, the script is sufficient enough to still make "The Secret of My Success" reasonably enjoyable and in some ways a successful pastiche of the yuppie culture where corporate success was everything. In fact the humorous element to the movie comes across as more important than the actual storyline, with great effort to provide laughs at every opportunity whether it is through his aunts humorous sexual advances or a moment of slapstick involving a Chaplin-esque chase scene. But sadly the style of the humour has not aged very well, where as I remember laughing at many of the jokes when "The Secret of My Success" first came out, they seem rather lame compared to today's standard of comedy.
Whilst the plot and the humour may be lacking and feel very dated, the performance of Michael J. Fox in the lead role is still a joy to watch. Do not get me wrong as this is by no means a brilliant performance and at times it feels nearly identical to his performance in "Back to the Future", but Fox's boyish charms and enthusiasm shine through helping to save the movie from being extremely poor. Despite the seemingly meagre script, it feels like Fox has really attempted to put some life into his performance, whether it is in the romantic scenes, or a slapstick comedy moment.
But sadly Michael J. Fox is let down by his co-stars, most significantly by Helen Slater who plays Christy Wills the junior executive with whom he becomes romantically involved. The biggest problem comes from the fact that her performance comes over as very wooden, and that she is not so much acting but just reciting lines. It also doesn't help that there is a distinct lack of any chemistry between Slater and Fox, making the romantic scenes feel rather dull and lifeless. Although "The Secret of My Success" has reasonable performances from the remaining supporting cast, which includes Richard Jordan, Gerry Bamman and Fred Gwyne the only real performance which counts, as it saves the movie from being really poor, is that of Michael J. Fox.
Despite having a substandard script, director Herbert Ross has done one thing remarkably well, and that is to keep "The Secret of My Success" moving at an ideal pace, so that you never feel like anything is being dragged out. Although this doesn't make up for any of the other problems, such as the poor acting from Helen Slater, dragging it down. But whilst the movie in general feels very dated and a bit lame compared to modern movies, the soundtrack is truly brilliant, filled with songs and artists from the 80s including pieces from Pat Benatar and Bananarama, it is a pleasant trip down memory lane.
What this all boils down to is that whilst movies such as "Back to the Future" and "St. Elmo's fire", although dated, seemed to be remembered as classics of the 80s, "The Secret of My Success" is definitely not. That is not to say that it's not still enjoyable and entertaining to watch as it is, it just lacks the decent plot which accompanied these other movies and has dated rather more badly than them. Compared to modern comedies, "The Secret of my Success" looks rather lame and it is only through the decent performance of Michael J. Fox and an enjoyable sound track that the movie manages to stop from being completely terrible.
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