There are some days I cannot resist the $5 bin at Wal-Mart’s. It’s why I rarely let myself go back into the movie section but today I let myself wander in. And found a couple of old friends. The first is this movie from 1987. Michael J. Fox at his most charming in the ‘80s. My parents adore this movie; I remember seeing this movie fairly young. Watching it again, I’m not sure I caught some of the undertones of the film when I was younger.
The Secret of My Success (apparently this is supposed to be “Succe$s” which is lame but I wanted to make sure I shared all the facts) follows the story of Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox) as he moves to New York City from Kansas to try to make it in corporate America. After striking out on his own, he visits his uncle Howard (Richard Jordan), head of Primrose Corporation and gets a job in the mailroom. One day, on his rounds, he impersonates an executive to make a decision and gets his foot in the door. He creates Carlton Whitfield, a high-powered executive and tries to save the company with the help of a beautiful financial wizard (Helen Slater), his best friend in the mailroom (John Pankow) and his sexy aunt Vera (Margaret Whitton). It is a screwball comedy at its heart.
But, having just come off a painful yearlong job search, Brantley’s job search at the beginning of the film struck a cord with me that it hadn’t before. The job he had lined up before he moved to New York City is eliminated following a hostile takeover, so he then goes on a series of interviews where he’s told he doesn’t have enough experience to get a job. One conversation particularly struck me. He’s in an interview and says he’d been trained in college to handle the job he’s applying for:
Potential Employer: What you’ve got is college experience, not the practical, hard-nosed business experience we’re looking for. If you’d joined our training program out of high school, you’d be qualified for this job now.
Brantley: Then why did I go to college?
Potential Employer: Had fun, didn’t you?
That conversation is still as true today as it was in the eighties. It struck me as a conversation I never even had the chance to sit down and have that discussion with a potential employer. All I got was the polite rejection letters saying they had had lots of qualified candidates and they had chosen the best qualified for the position. Implicit in the letters was I had not been the best qualified, not even qualified enough for them to talk to me beyond an impersonal letter. I felt for Brantley in his struggle to get anyone to let him in the door.
Beyond that, it’s a fun, nutty little comedy with crazy characters and situations (including Michael J. Fox always changing clothes in an elevator for his double life) and a great “chase” scene through a Hamptons country house. As I said before, Michael J. Fox is charming as always, Helen Slater politely bland as the love interest, John Pankow as the colorful best friend. But, Margaret Whitton steals the show in my opinion as Brantley’s aunt Vera whose flamboyant ways and crazy ‘80s wardrobe never fail to make me laugh. There are the nods to the ridiculous eighties conspicuous consumption since all the characters are involved in the high powered Wall Street political lifestyle where money seems to be no object and a hostile takeover is always just around the corner. It’s a world I (thankfully) do not remember but it is entertaining to watch. A great Saturday afternoon flick that we used to be able to catch on TBS (edited) on the weekends. Might still be able to, keep an eye out for it, it’s worth a watch.