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Film / The Secret of My Success

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The Secret of My Success is a 1987 American comedy film produced and directed by Herbert Ross, and starring Michael J. Fox and Helen Slater. The screenplay was written by A.J. Carothers, Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr. from a story written by Carothers.

Well educated, Kansas born and raised, Brantley Foster sets out to make his fortune in New York. Unfortunately, when he arrives, the job he is promised fails to materialise, so he reluctantly looks up a distant relative, Howard Prescot, who runs a multimillion dollar corporation. Starting at the bottom, doesn't appeal to Brantley so he pretends to be an executive, whilst keeping this a secret from "uncle" Howard and Brantley's dream girl Christy.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Brantley freaks out upon realizing Vera is his aunt after having sex with her; Vera herself just finds it hilarious (and is eager for further trysts).
  • Anticipatory Lipstick: Brantley makes the mistake of complimenting the looks of his boss' wife when she's feeling unattractive. As "Oh Yeah" by Yello plays, the boss' wife prepares to seduce him (to his dismay) as she applies her lipstick.
  • Bathroom Search Excuse: Brantley Foster has to hide from Howard because he's in his executive persona, and he barges into Christy Wills's office. When she notices him, he says "This isn't the men's room?"
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Brantley plays the part of a mid-level executive so well that no one catches on to what he's doing. It helps that his mailroom job lets him go anywhere in the building unnoticed, talk to almost anyone, and observe the workings of the corporation in a way that the other executives can't.
  • Broken Pedestal: Brantley respects his Uncle Howard's success in business until he discovers Howard's "business acumen" consists of cutting as many jobs as possible whenever the going gets tough. Then he loses all personal respect when Howard spends an entire afternoon making excuses for cheating on Vera.
  • Bow Chicka Wow Wow: The soundtrack of this film is what many people think of when Bow-Chicka-Bow-Wow rolls out.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Howard Prescott, in more ways than one.
    • Late in the film, it's revealed that he married into the Prescott Family, because Vera was the founder's daughter, and convinced her to let him run the company in her stead, as a means to take over her father's corporation. But his shady business practices ran it into the ground, leaving the Pemrose Corporation ripe for a takeover by Davenport Enterprises. Rather than try to save the company, he brokers a deal with Davenport's CEO to save his own position.
    • He also has an ongoing affair with one of his employees (Christy), whom he strings along by promising to leave his wife, Vera, for her. So Vera has an affair with Brantley, since it wasn't long before she realized her husband was cheating on her. But after learning how badly Howard's been running her father's company, she teams up with Brantley to save it.
  • Daddy's Girl: Vera was apparently close to her father, the founder of Pemrose. Her anger at Howard is partly because he's running what her father built into the ground.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Christy isn't at all impressed with Brantley when she first meets him, but he keeps at it.
  • Elevator Conference: A variation. Brantley stops the lift he's in to use it as an impromptu dressing room and come out as Carlton Whitfield.
  • Elevator Going Down: The film ends on one of these.
  • Gold Digger: It's implied Howard only married Vera just so he could climb the corporate ladder. On top of his serial adultery, he is incredibly neglectful of Vera.
  • A God Am I: Played for laughs. Brantley's Mean Boss insists Brantley call him God, which becomes a Running Gag in the movie.
  • I Have Many Names: Brantley only had two: his real name, Brantley Foster, and his alias for faking his way into a position of prominence at his uncle's company, Carlton Whitfield. However, the nature of the business world leads to people referring to him casually as only a first or last name. When, at a party, he's addressed by all four names by various partygoers, he explains to his date that his parents weren't satisfied with just one name.
    "My monogram looks like an eyechart."
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Brantley ends up having an affair with his boss's wife who turns out to be his aunt-in-law!, Vera. When she comes to his office, looking for seconds (which is one-sided this time), they get busted when his uncle shows up unexpectedly, to talk to him.
  • Invented Individual: Brantley sees how poorly the company is being run and decides to create a position under the name Carlton Whitfield, to influence and improve the company's operations.
    • Sort of overlaps with Character Name Alias, as Carlton Whitfield was the name one of Brantley's neighbors back in Kansas.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: All Howard's scheming and backstabbing his wife is what eventually causes her to throw her support behind Brantley to save her father's company.
  • Lucky Charms Title: The movie title is sometimes stylized as The Secret of My Succe$s.
  • MegaCorp: The Pemrose Corporation.
  • Mock Millionaire: Brantley is a lowly office worker who pretends to be a high-profile corporate executive.
  • Mrs. Robinson: The company president's bored wife pursues mail boy Brantley, who is also her nephew, though she didn't know it at first.
  • Newcomer Saves the Day: Brantley applied at a time that his uncle's company was ripe for a takeover. But after going over the company's ledger, and hearing from their dissatisfied business partners, Brantley soon realizes that the real problem is his uncle's lack of business sense. So he devises a way to save the company, by buying it out from under his uncle... with help from his uncle's wife: Brantley's aunt, Vera.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Howard is an incompetent executive who only rose to the top by marrying into the Pemrose family.
  • Right Through the Wall / The Immodest Orgasm: Brantley has moved to the city and is living in a crappy apartment, complete with incredibly loud, horny neighbors. At one point, when they're getting it on while he's trying to work, he goes to the fridge for a beer, grabs a stick, and begins waving it like he's holding a baton. We know that they do this a lot because he can mouth along with their dirty talk, and cracks his (overflowing) beer right at the moment of climax. Then he sits down at his desk and says, "You guys were good tonight."
  • Self-Made Man: The late Mr. Pemrose was this: Vera, his daughter, wistfully remembers how he started in a crappy apartment like Brantley's.
  • Sex at Work: While hiding from his mailroom boss in a supply closet, Brantley stumbles upon two coworkers having extremely noisy sex (and who don't particularly care that he sees). Later, he has sex with Christy in one of the office elevators.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Brantley earns Vera's affection by helping lift her spirits.
  • Sleeping with the Boss: Brantley's uncle Howard Prescott, CEO of the Pemrose Corporation, has an ongoing affair with Christy, one of his employees who is also Brantley's Love Interest.
  • Sleeping with the Boss's Wife: Vera Pemrose Prescott is the wife of Howard Prescott, the CEO of the Pemrose Corporation. She seduces Brantley Foster, an employee at Pemrose, and has a sexual encounter with him. She only did so because she wanted to get back at her husband for having an affair. Foster himself only finds out that Vera is his boss' wife right after he sleeps with her. He also discovers that she's his aunt, because at that exact same moment she finds out that he's her nephew by marriage.
  • Surprise Incest: Brantley is asked to escort the wife of his boss to her country home. She takes an immediate liking to him and convinces him to stay for a swim, which leads to her seducing him. Not long after, Brantley realizes that she is his Aunt Vera (very distantly; his boss, Mr. Prescott, is also his uncle by a different marriage). Brantley is disgusted, but Vera isn't - she later pursues him sexually.
  • Travelling Salesman Montage: After a rapid-fire sequence of rejections, Brantley declares, "Whatever the exception is, I can fix it. I can be older, I can be taller, I can be anything." The interviewer asks, "Can you be a minority woman?"
  • Two-Person Pool Party: Vera Prescott seduces Brantley at the country house's swimming pool.
  • Two-Timer Date: Brantley struggles to secretly hold down two jobs and uses the elevator for a changing room when he dashes back and forth to fulfill his responsibilities. He even manages to carry off the charade on a weekend trip and manages to have a girlfriend while having an affair with his own aunt.
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: When Brantley is caught changing dresses in the elevator.