Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (September 16th at the CWRU Film Society, Strosacker Auditorium)

[FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF screens September 16th at 7:00 pm, 9:00 pm and 11:00 pm at the Case Western Reserve Film Society, Strosacker Auditorium.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

It’s not his fault, I guess, but in dying in August, 2009 John Hughes did me a grave disservice. I was supposed to have a rare my-name-in-lights cover story in one of the local alternative-media tabloids, full of liberal-progressive political screeds and phone-sex ads. I must confess, I rather forget exactly what the story concerned, so it couldn’t have been all THAT earth-shaking. But still… Anyway, John Hughes, cinematic chronicler of 1980s teen emotion (and a writer for the National Lampoon) suddenly died. And thus was my cover story consigned to the back pages, while some other writer penned a long tribute to Why Hughes Mattered to a generation. Oh, and hot swimsuit girls are waiting to talk to you! Call 1-976-FAKEORGASM.... Might even have been syndicated content from out of town. My piece at least had something to do with Cleveland, I think.

Like I said, not Hughes’ fault. But if you know what petty slimeballs we journalists are even at the best of times, it’s still the sort of thing that engenders resentment. So full disclosure: I’m not as much a nostalgic worshiper of all things John Hughes as most Midwesterners who lived through his mid-1980s-early 90s halcyon days, when the guy literally wrote a new script each weekend (something he freely confessed), many of them carbon copies of the others. But I have to say, even before Hughes proved mightier than I, verily even in death, I was less than thrilled with his “classic” FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF. It’s Paramount’s hit comedy in which a smooth and cheerfully-dishonest high-school con-artist (played in irresistible fashion by Matthew Broderick) gets everything he wants throughout the film, playing tricks, impostures and slacking off. All the while he speaks right to the camera, a la Michael Caine in ALFIE, but I must tell you that even to Hughes’ 1980s target audiences – high schoolers – “Alfie” was a TV sitcom with a goofy alien puppet. And the Reagan-era kids licked up Hughes’ schtick like mother’s milk (or bongwater).

Ferris wants a break from classroom drudgery to have fun in Chicago. Successfully faking out his moron parents (as most parents and adults in this movie are morons) with a nonexistent illness, Bueller springs to action and explains his “seize the day” philosophy to you, as he phones his much-more hardworking (and, thus, downcast and depressed) friend and classmate Cameron (Alan Ruck) to cut class along with him. They also snag Ferris’ upper-class girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) from her school by impersonating an adult guardian.

The trio, driving Cameron’s dad’s treasured 1961 Ferrari convertible, hit the town. Sunny Chicago, a regular player in the Hughes-iverse, is uncommonly full of parades, festivals and ball games just for the teen protagonists’ pleasure. If this is a weekday - what must the Windy City’s weekends be like?

It’s not the first time Ferris has played this trick, and a grim school faculty member (Jeffrey Jones) pursues, as eager to catch Bueller as Wile E. Coyote wants the Road Runner. Ferris’ kid sister (Jennifer Grey) also resents her older brother getting away with such antics constantly, and tries to rat him out. But, despite a few close scrapes, Ferris triumphs. I don’t know how to put this except to say it plainly, that I was rooting for Ferris to get caught. I have since come to know too many people who cut high school so much they didn’t graduate. In later life they got jobs and opportunities handed to them like candy. I worked like a dog on school studies, had no girlfriend (especially not one who looked like Mia Sara) and am still looking for gainful employment.

Hughes sort-of-justifies Ferris, as a healthy response to self-centered and materialistic yuppie-dolt adults like Cameron’s father. In the end it’s poor Cameron who’s going to take a fall for the gang, but even he looks forward to the opportunity to defy his never-seen did, accused of valuing the Ferrari more than the son. A good question, though, would be whether carefree Ferris will be any better when he grows up. If he grows up. My only real revenge: A NBC-TV-series spinoff in 1990 showcasing the Ferris character (now played by Charlie Schlatter) saw quick cancellation – while a blatant imitator, “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose,” had a fairly long and successful run on Fox. Suck on that, Bueller! John Hughes wasn’t down and out, though; straightaway he would write-produce HOME ALONE, one of the biggest smashes of the decade. And its ghastly sequels.

In fairness, when FERRIS BUELLER premiered in 1986, the clever Ferris was a refreshing change from a common movie image of teenage boys as sex- and drug-crazed dolts, either lusting after virgin cheerleaders or on the run from mad knife-killers (sometimes simultaneously). Besides dissing me from the afterlife, Hughes made his reputation crafting quirky young characters with rich inner lives, clever intellects and realistic personal concerns. The flipside is his scripts leaned heavily to what film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel rightly diagnosed as the smart kids/dumb parents syndrome. You don’t have to be as bright as Ferris Bueller to see how young viewers would patronize movies that show them as savvy and resourceful, outsmarting uncool teachers, moms and dads at every turn. Exuberant and stacked hopelessly in favor of its chatty title character, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF sums up what’s to love and what to dislike about John Hughes…At least until you see the schlocky slasher spoof NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CLASS REUNION, one of those Hughes scripts no one wants to talk about. Not even canned cover stories in Cleveland alt-weeklies. (2 ½ out of 4 stars)

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