Dir. by John Hughes - 1 hr. 43 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
No matter how awful the decade, there are still positive things to be found in it's aftermath. I am decidedly not a big "1980's" fan; I grew up in it, and surviving it once was enough. But some of the movies (comedies, in particular) have held up pretty well. "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is one of the very best comedies from that era, and unlike most of the films that fit that bill, there's no one in the cast who is primarily considered a "comedian."
This film is the story of the titular character, Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), a high-school student who has decided to play hooky. But seeing as how this is his tenth absence of term, it's going to have to count. He drags his best friend, Cameron (Alan Ruck), and his girlfriend (Mia Sara) into his scheme: a day trip to Chicago. In order to do that, Ferris must out-smart his parents, teachers, his principal (Jeffrey Jones), and even his sister, Jeanie (Jennifer Grey). When put in glib terms like this, it might sound like a brutal film to get through, but as is par for the course with comedies, at least half of the battle is the execution.
And the execution is damn-near perfect. Matthew Broderick plays Ferris with a lack of malice; he's not a wise-cracking borderline-psychotic asshole, he's just a kid who doesn't want to go to school because it's a nice day, and then doesn't want to spend it alone, so he gets his close friends to go along with him. He's also someone who's default setting is "why not," so when an opportunity presents itself, he takes advantage of it. The character is written as someone who has already planned for everything, even if only barely, and there's a lot of fun to be had in seeing his ruses play out (even if it's kind of absurd, but the absurdity is kind of the point. As Bill Hicks put it, life is a ride). It's also a necessary counterpoint to the characters who are infuriated by his ability to get away with things (Principal Ed Rooney and his sister, Jeanie). If there was ever a sense that Ferris was trying to get one over on the system or on an individual, it would really harm the goodwill the character generates, but that never pops up. Ferris simply wants to have a nice day away from school, which is a sentiment we've all had at one point or another.
Another important factor: the other characters aren't really made fools of. Someone doesn't have to lose in order for Ferris to win, which is probably the core message of the film. The only character that really gets embarrassed is Principal Rooney, but that's only because he pushes so hard against Ferris. Jeanie ends up in a police station at one point because (in a round-about way) she's pushing against Ferris (in a memorable scene with Charlie "Drugs" Sheen), but when she heeds Sheen's advice, things straighten out for her. It's an important point "Ferris Bueller" makes, that people who are infuriated by other people's happiness are bound for a bad end. It's only through the pursuit of your own happiness (and sharing that with others) that one can accomplish anything.
The other half of the battle is that this is a genuinely funny film. It's a bit ahead of it's time, in terms of referencing pop culture (and not in an annoying, short-cut kind of way - perhaps the greatest example of this is the use of the "Stars War" theme, easily a decade before everyone and their uncle started having their way with every little detail of the Star Wars franchise), which makes it feel as if it's not as old of a film as it is. There are probably at least half a dozen memorable scenes here, which is a sort of litmus test for a really great comedy. Even relatively minor jokes have had a life of their own (like Ben Stein's droning, "Bueller? Bueller?"), but the big scenes are great, too (like the parade scene, or the police station scene with Grey and Sheen, or Ferris' race home, or the demise of Cameron's dad's car, or the lunch "Abe Froman" scene, or...). There's no shortage of really funny material, from the opening scene all the way to after the credits. And you can even see the influence of this movie on other films, from the contraption-based humor of another John Hughes film, "Home Alone," to the somewhat tortured time-travel logic of the "Bill and Ted's" movies. There's nothing more you can ask for than for a comedy to still be laugh-out-loud funny twenty-five years on, and for other filmmakers to adopt pieces of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" for their own purposes.
5 / 5 - Blu-Ray