Title: The Secret of My Success (1987)
Director: Herbert Ross
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Helen Slater, Richard Jordan
The Secret of My Success was a huge hit in the 80’s because it came out during Michael J. Fox’s peak of fame. He’d done extensive television work on Family Ties, and just gotten off releasing Back to the Future (1985) and Teen Wolf (1985), both of which were huge hits for him. The Secret of My Success, proved to be one of Michael J. Fox’s most successful films outside of the Back to the Future trilogy. Actually, at that time, anything that Michael J. Fox did made money, because his popularity and career where just starting to take off! I mean look at Teen Wolf a teen comedy that was a huge money maker. It only cost 1.4 million and made 80 million! So yeah, Michael J. Fox was riding hi on the fame train, question is, where any of the films he was making worth a damn? Is The Secret of My Success a good one?
I’d say that yeah, it was a good one, I laughed, I giggled and generally had a good time. I wanted to see something really 80’s for the 80’s Blog-a Thon thing, and I have to say this one is really, really 80’s! I mean, the clothes, the hair, the music…it took me back, which is what I love about watching movies from a certain decade, I love it when films take a snapshot of a certain moment in time. And in this particular moment in time, films about poor people suddenly becoming rich were extremely popular. a.k.a. 'rags to riches' stories. For example films like Trading Places (1983), Protocol (1984) and Brewster’s Millions (1985) were all films about poor dopes suddenly becoming filthy rich because of a twist of fate, or pure luck. The difference with The Secret of My Success is that it’s main character, college graduate Bradley Foster doesn’t make it because lady luck suddenly smiled on him, nope, Bradley Foster makes it to the big time because of his own wits, his own smarts. I mean, yeah, true, he has an uncle that’s a CEO of a big company, and his uncle gives him a job, but he ends up working in the Mail Room, with very low pay. He makes it to the big time because of his enthusiasm, his energy and his ideas.
So basically, this is a coming of age story. It’s a film about a kid whose just gotten out of college and wants to leave his mom and dad’s farm house in Kansas to make it big in New York City's business world. He’s taken it upon himself to beat New York, to not go back home crying to mama. He wants to make it big, to have a meaningful relationship with a beautiful girl, a car, a private jet, basically, he wants it all and he wants to do it on his own, without having to screw anybody to get to the top. But of course, he’s a kid from Kansas, and now he’s in NYC, so it can also be seen as a fish out of water story, David vs. Goliath. The thing about Michael J. Fox’s character in The Secret of My Success is that he adapts very well to living amongst sky scrapers and working amongst “the suits”. This is also one of those films where the main character adopts a second personality so he can achieve his goals, and has to later, by the end of the film tell everyone the truth.
The Secret of My Success is one of the many films that came out during the 80’s that dealt with the corporate business lifestyle and its effects on society. It’s no secret that the 80’s were known as the decade of decadence, excess and self centered individuals making tons of money and spending it, the quintessential ’yuppies’ that were later so perfectly depicted in Mary Harron’s American Psycho (2000). It was a decade of economic abundance, a decade in which Reaganomics brought unemployment rates and poverty down. Economy wise, United States was doing good. The flood gates to big business were opened wide. Back then films depicted greed as being…"for lack of a better word…good" to quote Michael Douglas’s character in Wall Street (1987) a film that mirrors perfectly the kind of mentality that permeated during this decade, in fact, Wall Street can be see as a more dramatic and serious version of The Secret of My Success. Other films of the 80’s that explored the corporate lifestyle were Baby Boom (1987) and Working Girl (1988). In the case of Baby Boom we get a film that tries to humanize the selfish yuppie by having the yuppie (played by Diane Keaton) inherit a baby from a distant recently deceased relative, she has to learn to accomodate her life, learn that what really matters in life is not money. Working Girl can be seen as a female version of The Secret of My Success, it’s also about a working class woman who pretends to be someone she isn’t in order to get ahead in the corporate world. So as we can see, these types of films were proliferating during the 80’s because they are a reflection of the era.
The Secret of My Success has survived this long because it’s what I call a “quintessential 80’s film” and because it stars Michael J. Fox who exploited his sweet natured, good boy persona. The film also gets surprisingly romantic, Michael J. Fox’s character, Bradley Foster falls in love with this working girl played by none other than the ultra beautiful Helen Slater. I kept cracking my head trying to figure out where I’d seen her before, then it dawned on me, it’s Supergirl (1984)! It’s really funny how in some scenes (especially those where they kiss) Helen Slater looks like a towering sky scraper next to Fox! The soundtrack is extremely 80’s, it has tunes from many 80’s staples such as Pat Benatar, Bananarama and Night Ranger, who by the way sing the theme song “The Secret of My Success”, which I remember sounded quite a bit on the airwaves. At the end of the day, The Secret of My Success is a fun film, most of the fun comes from Michael J. Fox’s character leading a double life, trying to hide the fact that he is passing himself off as one of “the suits” when he is really just an employee from the mailing room; the idea being that if you believe yourself to be something, you can eventually become that thing which you want to become, an idea I’ve experienced to be true. Plus the film has something of an innocense to it, even if it can also be categorized as an 80's sex comedy. When we get down to it, The Secret of My Success is a multilayered film that spans quite a few genres, it's a comedy, it's a romantic film, it's a drama, it's a sex comedy, a coming of age story, a fish out of water story and it is also a truly 80's film, so if you're feeling nostalgic about the decade, this one comes highly recommended.