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FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jennifer Grey, Jeffrey Jones, Edie McClurg, Ben Stein
Director:  John Hughes
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  Commentary
Length:  102 Minutes
Release Date:  August 5, 2008

"One of the worst performances of my career...and they never doubted it for a second!"

Film ***1/2

Ferris Bueller was both a hero and an icon to those of us who went to high school in the 80s.  He was exactly the kind of kid we all fantasized about being…smooth, charismatic, and with an uncanny ability to outwit any and all grown-ups in his way.  His life was pure fantasy, but we embraced it because it was our fantasy.

Now, 20 years later, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off stands as one of the shining comic jewels from its time period.  It’s simply one of the funniest films of the 80s, and it hasn’t lost any of its wit or charm over time.  It’s a good old fashioned tall tale of one high school student and the lengths he will go to just to have a day away from school.

Writer and director John Hughes definitely had his finger on the pulse of the youth in his day, and he’s left his mark in movie history because of it.  And if he gave a voice to my generation’s anger and insecurity in The Breakfast Club, he also captured its humor and spirit of mischief with Ferris Bueller.

I’ve called it a fantasy, and so it is.  Most of us who played hooky stayed at home in bed and watched a little daytime TV.  Ferris (Broderick), on the other hand, spends an adventurous day in the city of Chicago with his girlfriend Sloane (Sara) and his buddy Cameron (Ruck).  They go to the ball game, have dinner in an exclusive restaurant, take part in a parade in the middle of downtown…all while driving a vintage and mint conditioned Ferrari.  It’s no wonder why we all loved the guy so much.

I’ve also said the film is funny, and boy, is it ever.  This has to be one of the most commonly quoted movies of the last 15 years or so.  My personal favorite:  “So THAT’S how it is in their family.”  (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, then you really have to see this film).  It’s a comedy that relies on the balance of mixing the right actors with John Hughes’ terrific screenplay, and it’s a blend that never fails.  Each actor finds the right comic stride, and the results are fall down funny.  The more you see the film, the more you appreciate the sense of timing each performer brings to his role, and it’s hard to tell whether it is Broderick, Jones, or the hysterical Edie McClurg who brings the best brew to the party. 

Jones is particularly good as Rooney, the dean who’s out to bust Ferris and bring his whole little scheme crashing to the ground.  In real life, he would have done just that, but in this world, Ferris is like a chess master…always thinking several moves ahead, and always able to wriggle out of the crushing grasp of authority.

I can’t help but cite as an example the carefully controlled use of swearing in the picture.  You and I both know that there’s nothing funny about a curse word in and of itself.  But when a choice bit of profanity is used at just the right moment with just the right amount of emphasis, or even lack thereof, it can produce a laugh as big as anything else. 

There is one flaw in the picture…the delightful comic energy is temporarily lost a little closer to the end.  Suddenly, questions are asked along the lines of who are we, and what are we doing with our lives.  Important questions, to be sure, but in this case, they seriously derail the train of humor, and the film gets briefly lost in an existential fog.  This sudden case of seriousness is compounded by the fact that one of the characters, Cameron, may actually have some deep issues affecting his life.  We know life is serious, already…was it necessary to intrude upon our fun right at this moment to tell us that?

Fortunately, the movie comes out of the fog just in time, finds the track again, and speeds towards a hilarious, energetic, and satisfying conclusion.  And you definitely want to say through the credits.  I think Yello’s “Oh Yeah” might be one of the most perfect uses of a song to accompany what’s happening on the screen ever.  

BONUS TRIVIA:  Look for Kristy Swanson in a small role explaining Ferris' illness!

Video ***1/2

Paramount offers a very nice anamorphic transfer with this DVD.  No complaints at all as far as evident grain or compression.  All images are sharp, clear, and exhibit good coloring.  This is one of the better looking 80s films on DVD available. 

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack is fine, coming to life mostly during the many good songs that help the film maintain its energy...apart from that, the multi channel track is mainly used for opening up the field of sound, rather than discreet effects or cues.

Features *1/2

The disc includes an informative and interesting commentary from John Hughes and a bonus CD of 80s music.

Summary:

Ferris Bueller defined cool for a lot of us by being the kind of guy we all dreamed about being, and obviously, his appeal and influence was far reaching enough to surface in other areas, like Parker Lewis and Saved By The Bell on television.  This film is pure comic fantasy, with enough momentum to take it through its ill advised stab at sobriety.  And hey, kids, it is just a movie, so don’t skip school, all right? ;-)

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