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Secret of My Success, The
The Secret of My Success is a schizophrenic experience, a movie split in half between two distinct genres and tones. The first half is a biting satire that scrutinizes the strict and abusive class system in 1980s New York yuppie culture, as well as a darkly humorous distillation of how hard it is to move upward in Reagan's America. With income inequality at its worst in contemporary times, bringing with it a bigger chasm between the upper and lower classes, the film's socioeconomic messaging has aged well and became more urgent. The second half devolves into a Billy Wilder-esque rom-com without Wilder's edge and wit (So essentially a Doris Day-Rock Hudson saccharine romance). One half still feels relevant, fresh, and timeless, the other felt woefully dated when the movie was released in 1987.
Michael J. Fox brings his babyface-with-snark mid-80s charm as Brantley, a Kansas farm boy who strives to make it big as a financial powerhouse in New York City. As soon as he shows up at the Big Apple, he's told that the job that's set up for him isn't even there anymore, due to a last minute hostile corporate takeover. Desperate for employment, Brantley takes a position as a mail delivery boy at another giant corporation. There, he not only learns the hard truth about his non-existing chances of working his way up the food chain as part of the old-fashioned American dream, but that he's not even allowed to make eye contact with the "suits" who run the place. Director Herbert Ross, who excelled at studying the various cultural and class rifts in New York with better films like The Goodbye Girl and The Owl and The Pussycat, engages us in Brantley's struggle by focusing on intricate character development.
Finally coming to an understanding that he needs to play just as dirty as the suits in order to make his mark, Brentley squats in an empty office and pretends to be an executive named Cartlton, a quintessential yuppie name if I ever saw one. The comedy of errors that results from Brantley having to change between his mail job and his executive "career" without being noticed is affable in an old Hollywood way. But the charm runs cold when a romantic interest in the form of Helen Slater's "80s cold career woman with a hidden warm heart" trope as an executive named Christy. As perhaps a nod to Wilder's The Apartment, Christy is in a relationship with the company's married CEO (Richard Jordan), which creates a rote love triangle. From this point on, The Secret of My Success switches into autopilot as it exploits every cliché of old school screwball comedies, without the chemistry between the leads to drive the predictable narrative forward. The cookie cutter climax not only makes zero sense, but comes across as a surrender to studio notes to manufacture a warm and fuzzy ending by all means possible.
Even though it has its share of scratches and occasional blemishes from the source print, Kino's 1080p transfer showcases the bright and lush color palette of the film. DP Carlo Di Palma said that he wanted to capture Brantley's rose-colored vision of New York, and this sentiment comes through (Even though it doesn't match the satirical tone of the first half) in a clear way with some healthy contrast.
The DTS-HD 2.0 stereo track really comes to life with the many ‘80s hits that the film needle drops at every opportune moment, which might make you really hate Yello's earworm "Oh Yeah" even more than you already do. The dialogue is clean, but is mixed a bit on the low end compared to the music, so be prepared to keep your fingers on the volume button if you're watching it late at night.
Commentary by Brian Reesman: The entertainment journalist offers a loose and conversational take on not just the film's production, but the overall yuppie culture in the 1980s.
Interview with Helen Slater: This new interview is a bit over ten minutes long, and contains Slater's candid stories about the production.
We also get a Trailer.
If you're looking for a terrific takedown of ‘80s yuppie culture that also stars Fox, then seek out the vastly underrated drama Bright Lights, Big City. The Secret of My Success has enough going for it as a rental, but it's too undecided on tone and genre to fully work as a cohesive whole.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com