' Cinema Romantico: The Secret Of My Success

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Secret Of My Success

I'm a nostalgic person. And when you consider I recently attended my best friend's bachelor party a couple weeks ago in New York City coupled with the fact I just recently turned 32 I started getting....well, obviously. As my best friend, who I've known since I was, like, five, can confirm, my birthday parties in the late 80's always contained screenings of the Michael J. Fox film "The Secret Of My Success". Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps at the time I fancied myself a future business executive in the caverns of Lower Manhattan?

I don't know and that's why I needed to decipher the reason. I wanted to know what in the world was so appealing about this young-bright-eyed-kid-from-Kansas-makes-good-through-clever-schemes-in-the-Big-Apple movie. So, for the first time probably since one of those late 80's birthday parties, I sat down to watch it.

A few things struck me intially. One, the film begins with a montage that includes a gaggle of shots in which we see random people on the streets of NYC with their backs to the camera turning their heads around to look to the right or left of the camera. I mean, there are at least two dozen of these shots. What in God's name is this supposed to be? Two, the great character actor Bruce McGill ("The Insider", "Elizabethtown", many, many others) turns up for one extremely brief sequence at the start as a guy who refuses to hire the young Fox. Three, Fox's eventual secretary is played by the same woman who played the unfetching daughter of Mrs. Sokol, the hardened unemployment office worker, whom George Costanza dates in a pitiful attempt to extend his unemployment benefits in the famed Keith Hernandez "Seinfeld" episode. Four, the film was written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr., the same screenwriting team who brought us "Top Gun", re-proving this duo was not slapped with the subtlety stick at birth.

And so I'm off and digressing. But before I digress too much allow me to state for the record that "The Secret Of My Success" concerns Fox as Brantley Foster, hailing from, as established, the Sunflower State, determined to make it in the City That Never Sleeps only to arrive and immediately find the job that was waiting for him not waiting for him anymore. He can't find another job because, as they say, he needs experience of which he has none because he can't get a job. Thus, the idealistic Brantley, who wanted no outside help in his quest, turns to his Uncle (Richard Jordan), who he's never met, the C.E.O. of a massive Manhattan conglomerate that does who-knows-what and lands a job in the mail room.

Like that would ever stop Brantley Foster from rising to the top. In no time he A.) Meets Cute with a co-worker named Christy (Helen Slater) far higher up the food chain than he (in a hilariously awful scene at a drinking fountain), B.) Commandeers the office of a recently fired employee, pawning himself off as Carlton Whitfield, a top-notch executive who, of course, clashes with Christy and C.) Falls into bed unknowingly with his Aunt (Margaret Whitton).

Yes. His Aunt. How did I forget about this plot development? It's a little disturbing and yet handled with extreme non-chalance. Even after this discovery his Aunt still attempts to put the moves on him! This isn't a parlor game, people, this is family relations! There is a scene when Brantley's Uncle enters his office to find his nephew astride his Aunt on the couch and it's all passed off to "wacky" misunderstandings and everyone goes on their merry way. Was this all the rage back in the 80's and I simply repressed it?

"The Secret Of My Success" is brimming with the sort of hijinks you would expect when you've got a guy masquerading as another guy and it's laden with so many terrible montages (set to soft jazz and the cheesiest of 80's pop songs) that I lost count and, well, here's where things get really crazy (at least, if you're me) - I pride myself on being able to spy any and all ex-"Seinfeld" players, however small the role, in any movie or TV show (witness my earlier picking out of Mrs. Sokol's daughter) but Helen Slater is so done up in that horrendous 80's hairdo and oversized glasses that when I went on IMDB to see what else she'd done I realized that (damn it all to hell!) I'd missed the mark! Helen Slater was....

Becky Gelke! "The blonde in the blue sweatpants!" I'm so ashamed I should just lock myself in a room with only bread and water and re-watch that particular "Seinfeld" episode for 24 hours straight. ("If you want to make a person feel better after they sneeze you shouldn't say, 'God bless you'. You should say, 'You're sooooo good lookin'"). But I couldn't do such a thing to my loyal readers and so I'll finish this highly analytical review instead.

So why? Why was "The Secret Of My Success" a birthday tradition? Was it because the subplot with the aunt was so shocking? Nah, I doubt it. Was it because they used "Oh Yeah" by Yello? Hold it....hold it....I might be on to something.

Last year the FX show "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" offered an homage of sorts to "The Secret Of My Success" in which the always hapless Charlie and Mac get jobs in the mail room of an office allowing for Mac to make like Brantley Foster and assume the identity of another office worker though instead of rising to the top he pretty much just sat in his office and sang, "Bow..bow..chick-a-chick ah" over and over.

Rob McElhenney, who plays Mac and was also co-creator of the show, was born in 1977! Just like me! Clearly I'm not the only kid of the 80's to be affected by this most decidedly 80's schlock-fest! Was it because as kids of the 80's we are all looking for shortcuts in both life and career? Why work your way up from the mail room, one rung at a time, when you can just make believe yourself into a prominent place where you have a secretary, a skyline view in your office and Becky Gelke herself on your arm?

Hmmmm....maybe I'm getting too "deep". Maybe it just goes to show that young kids don't always know what the hell is going on with cinema. We're drawn to crap but only years later do we recognize just how crappy it was and wonder what we were thinking. If anything, "The Secret Of My Success" gives me an even deeper appreciation of the work from the late John Hughes. How did he make such authentic films in such an un-authentic decade without sacrificing the requisite hijinks? Perhaps that is the real question.

Or perhaps it's not. Perhaps, on the heels of "Inglourious Basterds", the real question is when will Quentin Tarantino make his homage to 80's comedies? I, for one, can't wait.

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