The Secret Of My Success (1987)
Director: Herbert Ross Starring: Michael J. Fox, Helen Slater, Richard Jordan, Margaret Whitton, John Pankow, Christopher Murney
Certificate: PG Running Time: 106 Minutes
Tagline: “There’s no such thing as an overnight success. Brantley Foster took two weeks”
I’m sure most of us had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do after school or college but those lofty career aspirations don’t always work out how we planned. A similar problem befalls the star of this feel-good 80’s comedy. Landing the lead role fresh from the success of Back to the Future, Michael J. Fox stars as Brantley Foster. Aiming to escape the confines of the Kansas farm on which he grew up, Foster graduates from college and moves to New York after lining up an apartment and a decent executive position. After arriving for his first day at work, however, he finds himself laid off before he’s even started after his new employers fall victim to a hostile takeover. Having no luck with subsequent interviews elsewhere, his last chance is to ask him uncle for help, Howard Prescott (Jordan), who just happens to be CEO of the Pemrose Corporation…
Yes, it all sounds like fairly typical 80’s tomfoolery, and it does require a certain suspense of belief for much of its duration, but fortunately it has a decent enough cast to save it from potential mediocrity. The charms of Michael J. Fox were already well known by this point after his popular turns in Family Ties and Back to the Future and this role could’ve been (and probably was) written for him. It doesn’t take much for him to get you on his side you’ll have great fun while there as he flits back and forth between his two personas, talking business and cracking droll jokes with equal aplomb. The other standout character for me is that of ‘Auntie Vera’, featuring a fabulous turn from Whitton with her continual (not to mention inappropriate!) lusting after her nephew (don’t worry, they’re only related by marriage!).
Helen Slater, previously best known for playing ‘Supergirl’ (chortle) is also great as Foster’s love interest (or rather, the one he’s interested in!) and the two have good chemistry. At first cold and serious, she gradually warms to his affections while Richard Jordan, who also has designs on her, is pretty amusing as the company’s slimy and ruthless yet ineffective leader. John Pankow is likeable enough on best friend duties too but Fox is the star of the show here and he’s… well, the same as usual really! That’s no bad thing though, it’s almost impossible not to like him in any of his roles and this one is certainly no exception, it’s just a shame his on-screen career was cut so short.
Likeable characters are important in any film but how much you enjoy this film depends largely on your ability to look past the obviously implausible plot points. Luckily for me, I know little of the subjects at hand which makes it easier for me to ignore the liberties taken by the writers, and the result is one of my favourite films. The fantastic soundtrack also helps, featuring 80’s classics like ‘Walking On Sunshine’ and of course ‘Oh Yeah’ by Yello (which plays during a superb ‘late night sneaking around’ scene involving the four main characters) and lots of other great songs, all of which add even more charm. Yes, it’s a bit silly and yes it’s not terribly realistic, but it’s a damn funny and hugely enjoyable piece of fluff and one of the best feel-good movies around.
RKS Score: 9/10