John Hughes doesn't bat anything near 1.00. Sixteen Candles was fun when it wasn't being offensive, The Breakfast Club was good, Weird Science terrible, Vacation pretty funny, European Vacation not very funny, and Pretty In Pink well meaning but decidely average. Hughes has finally hit a home run, though, with Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Hughes' new movie is probably the funniest new film I've seen in the last two years. Barring a few serious moments which come across as dull, and an overindulgence in helicopter shots, Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a practically non-stop rollercoaster of laughs.
Ferris Bueller is the sort of high school kid who is legend. He can get away with literally anything, and every kid in school practically worships him. When a beautiful spring day comes along, Ferris can see no reason to take his test in Eastern European Socialism when he could, instead, be out sampling all life has to offer. So he fakes illness, in a spectacular manner, browbeats his truly sick best friend into getting out of bed, springs his girlfriend from school with an elaborate ruse concerning a dead grandmother, liberates a vintage Ferrari belonging to his friend's father, and bundles them all of to Chicago for a day well spent. Meanwhile, his sister and his principal, who both hate him for being able to get away with such outrageous feats, plot to capture him and prevent his imminent graduation.
A simple plot description cannot do justice to this film, any more than a plot description can do justice to any good comedy. The fun is in what Hughes does with the situation. Hughes demonstrates much more directorial ability than he ever has before. Working in close conjunction with his screenwriter (easy enough when he does both jobs), Hughes shows exceptional comedic timing and scrupulous care in setting up his gags. It's a true pleasure to watch real preparation of a bit of comedy, rather than just having it thrown at us. Preparation is probably the weakest element of most of today's screen comedians. Coming from a tradition of standup comedy and one liners, they lack the experience to really prepare a gag, which used to be the forte of the old comedians trained in vaudeville and burlesque. When you can make the audience see the gag coming, and yet find some slight additional twist that they hadn't foreseen, then you get a much bigger laugh than if you just drop the gag in their laps. Somewhere, Hughes seems to have learned how to set the audience up. Maybe he spent a few weeks watching Chaplin. Hughes' editor also deserves great praise, as he has complemented his director's timing perfectly. Every shot is held just long enough, and he always cuts to precisely the right angle. The editor also deserves praise for his pacing of the film, which is quick to the point of being brisk, yet not so fast that we miss any of the good parts.
The major potential pitfall in Ferris Bueller's Day Off comes from its hero. A character like Ferris, who can get away with anything, bullshit anyone, handle any disaster, is hard to like. The character's actions almost set him up to be hated by the audience. Hughes helps matters a little by having Ferris talk directly to the audience, establishing a bond with them, but what really puts the character, and with it, the film, across is Matthew Broderick's performance as Ferris Bueller. Broderick is superb. He is utterly convincing, yet completely likeable. He gets us on Ferris' side, seemingly effortlessly. Broderick's panache in dealing with difficult situations almost demands applause.
The supporting cast holds up its end very well. Alan Ruck is especially good as Ferris' best friend, an ordinary guy who can't persuade himself to say no to Ferris, no matter how crazy things get. Ruck's combination of outrage, disbelief, and admiration when Ferris pulls off something especially daring are wonderful to see. Mia Sara has less to work with as Ferris' girlfriend, but does well enough. Jeffrey Jones, as the principal, would be reason enough to see the film on his own. His determination to nab Ferris becomes an obsession which leads him into increasingly desperate measures, which Jones portrays perfectly. Charlie Sheen has a nice small role which doesn't give him much screen time, but does allow him to show his inherited charisma.
In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, comedy is king again. Hughes doesn't really have anything deep to say, he's just making us laugh, long and hard. Unfortunately, he does succumb to a desire to Make A Statement once or twice. When Broderick just has to throw away a serious line, this misguided effort doesn't do any harm, but Hughes grinds the picture to a temporary halt towards the end, when Ruck's obligatory big moment arrives. Things get serious and moralistic for too long. Fortunately, Hughes has a big finish in store which pays off quite nicely, allowing one to overlook this little flaw.
One of the secondary, but important, virtues of Ferris Bueller's Day Off is its shrewd observation of teenage life. The classroom scenes alone are almost worth the price of admission; they feature duplicates of the worst teachers you ever had in high school, and reaction shots that remind you all too well of what it was like to be in those classes. Ferris' relationship with his parents is also bound to strike a cord with anyone who feels that their parents didn't recognize that an 18-year-old is much more like a 40-year-old adult than a 7-year-old child. That Ferris can so expertly play upon his parents' misperception may well serve as vicarious revenge for those who identify with this syndrome, if it doesn't make them insanely jealous or cause them to kick themselves for not having thought of that approach back when it would have done some good.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off is one of the most satisfying films I've seen in a long time. Nearly everything works, and Hughes has happily stayed away from cheap shots (the bane of Sixteen Candles), vulgar yahooism (which sunk Weird Science), and predictability (the main problem of Pretty in Pink). Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a near perfectly paced gem of a film, and I recommend it highly. (By the way, be sure to stay till the end of the credits. The post-credit sequence in Young Sherlock Holmes was not especially interesting, but the one in Ferris Bueller is guaranteed to send you out of the theater laughing.)
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