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Ferris Bueller's Day Off Print E-mail
Tuesday, 19 October 1999

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: Matthew Broderick, Jeffrey Jones, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jennifer Grey, Edie McClurg, Cindy Pickett, Lyman Ward, Charlie Sheen.
release year: 1986
film rating: Four Stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

For a while in the 1980s, it seemed as though John Hughes had a direct line to the hearts and souls of teenagers (and early-20s types) around the world. Hughes began as an advertising copywriter, but turned out to have a real proclivity for writing movies that amused the largest section of the ticket-buying audience. MR. MOM was a smash hit, but what really put Hughes over was the string of teen-oriented comedies that began with SIXTEEN CANDLES in 1984.

He was 34 when the film was released, but he easily tapped into the problems that teens of the mid-80s were most concerned about. THE BREAKFAST CLUB, WEIRD SCIENCE and PRETTY IN PINK followed (and then, a bit later, SHE'S HAVING A BABY). After that, he aimed lower -- both in terms of sophistication and age level -- with HOME ALONE, and made even more money. In recent years, he's written/produced movies based on TV series and remakes, mostly for Disney, but though his films continue to make money, they don't have the heart of his teen-oriented movies. And, in fact, are generally pretty bad.

And of these, the two best are THE BREAKFAST CLUB and the very different FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, a frequently hilarious fantasy about the coolest guy in high school, Ferris Bueller (played with charm and a smirk by Matthew Broderick). This light, funny movie, made in a snappy, fresh style that wears well, remains one of the best-loved films of those who were teens when they saw it.

Although it leaves out one of the driving concerns of teenagers altogether -- sex -- it's otherwise one of the great wish-fulfillment fantasies about high school life. Ferris outsmarts all the adults as well as his darkly envious sister Jeannie (Jennifer Grey), he gets to drive a terrific car, he helps Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck), his best friend, feel better about himself, and at the end of the day, his adoring parents (Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward) still think of him as their innocent son. It's a win-win situation for Ferris from the moment he opens his eyes that morning.

Ferris convinces his parents he's too sick to go to school, when actually -- as he tells us directly, addressing the camera -- it's just too nice a day to go to school. He'd rather spend it in Chicago with his girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara) and Cameron. As the movie plays out, we learn more and more of the inventive means Ferris has set up to carry on his deception.

Meanwhile, his archenemy, pompous dean of students Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), becomes increasingly determined to prove that Ferris is getting away with something. But of course, Ferris is way ahead of him.

Ferris is something of a sprite, an elf, a magician; everything goes the way he wants it to, even if -- as with a snobbish maitre d' -- it sometimes takes a little thinking to bring it off. His scheme at feigning illness works so well that billboards, newspapers and water tanks post get-well messages before the day is out. And he and his friends manage to go to museums, ball games, the top of the Sears Tower and a snobbish restaurant all in one sunny day. Not to mention participating in a German-American parade, which Ferris livens up by lip-synching "Danke Schoen" and then, memorably and spectacularly, "Twist and Shout," with all of downtown Chicago joining in. This sequence must have been inspired by John Landis' "The Blues Brothers," but is on an even bigger scale than any number in that film.

But Hughes also meant the film to have a serious subplot: Ferris' attempts to help Cameron throw off the heavy hand of his father. It's Cameron's father's car they use for transportation to Chicago, and it gets memorably destroyed at the end. But this is pretty cheap pandering to the teenage crowd (it worked, though): destroy something beautiful that belongs to an oppressive parent (never seen), and you somehow strike a blow for freedom, rather than vandalism. The movie is somehow supposed to take place both in Ferris' fantasy world, and the much more real world where Cameron lives. But of course, Hughes completely avoids the scene in which Cameron actually has to confront his father over destroying a car worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Fortunately, the movie doesn't play as though it's really about Cameron and his problems; it's a funny, breezy comedy about the wonder-workings of the coolest guy in high school history, Ferris Bueller. And Hughes was profoundly fortunate that Ferris was played by Matthew Broderick. His sassy, get-me smiles never seem insolent, but charming; he really does seem capable of bringing off all his preposterous machinations, and we love him for it. Broderick has a terrifically expressive face -- notice the scene when he first drives off in the bright red Ferrari -- as well as a skilled actor's knowledge of how to play to the camera. It's a wonderful piece of irony that one of his best later roles was as a teacher in "Election," a teacher whom Ferris Bueller would have left a pile of quivering jelly.

Jeffrey Jones was also ideal casting for Ferris' opponent (though they have only one short scene together). Jones is a master of this kind of role, the pompous, self-assured blowhard who believes that rules exist solely to be followed. His angular face, big frame and big pop eyes make him a perfect comic villain, and FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF provides him with one of his funniest screen roles.

But what about all these other people, all fine? Alan Ruck's career never really went anywhere; his best-known later role was as the annoying bus passenger in SPEED, and he's had a supporting role on the TV series "Spin City." Mia Sara disappeared into TV movies, straight-to-video junk, and other minor efforts -- but she's so >good< here, as the one person who understands Ferris, and whom he can't bamboozle (he doesn't even try). Jennifer Grey (who was going with Broderick at the time of the movie) had a very promising career; she's terrific here, and was again the next year in DIRTY DANCING. But then she got a nose job, which may have improved her looks in a standard, classical sense, but wiped out her distinction. The roles vanished so much that she recently had one of the weirdest comebacks in showbiz history: on the series "It's Like, You Know..." she played Jennifer Grey, an actress whose career was crippled when she had a nose job.

There was a TV series, "Ferris Bueller," based on the movie, but it wasn't half as much fun as the ripoff of FERRIS BUELLER, "Parker Lewis Can't Lose."

The DVD is a pretty standard presentation, though the transfer is especially good, crisp, clean and bright, preserving Tak Fujimoto's stylized and stylish wide-screen photography. Hughes' choice of a music track was eccentric, often using little-known British bands, but it's a good one. Hughes' narration track has some interesting information, but it doesn't really add much to the value of the DVD. What would have been interesting was to hear him explain why, just four years after FERRIS BUELLER, he gave up directing movies altogether. Since then, he's only been a writer and producer.

more details
special features: menus; scene selection; narration track by writer-director John Hughes
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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