“Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”
So speaks Ferris Bueller, talisman of the eighties teen genre. It's not only the most iconic proclamation to come from the pen of seminal scribe John Hughes, but also Ferris' esteemed words of wisdom still hold a pertinent relevance now as much as they ever did. Life does indeed move pretty fast, and it's nigh on impossible to watch the adventures of Bueller and company today without experiencing a rather substantial dose of rose-tinted nostalgia. It's handy then, that the fact that Ferris Buller's Day Off is such a superb film in it's own right pretty much expunges any of the critical guilt of recommending dated dross purely on the basis of it's position as a guilty pleasure from a halcyon time gone by. Nostalgic reminiscence or not, this is still Hughes finest movie, a high water mark for the teenpic genre, and one of the crowning comedic achievements of the fledgling MTV generation. Unusually, considering the commercial success of Hughes' directorial canon, this is the first film of his to receive anything approaching a Special Edition release on DVD. Revisiting their earlier release of the title, Paramount have constructed this new release, and cursed it with the rather unfortunate moniker of the 'Bueller... Bueller... Edition'. Endlessly quotable, one can perhaps forgive Paramount for taking their inspiration from Hughes' screenplay, but surely the 'Leisure Rules Edition' would have been the way forward. I'd have even settled for the 'I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind Edition', but maybe that's just me.
As is characteristic with Hughes' films, the movie unfolds within the confines of a deceptively simple plotline. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) is a cunning entrepreneurial chancer in his final year of high school. Tired of the daily grind of education, he divises an elaborate plan to wag off school for the day. Roping in girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara), and hypochondriac best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), the trio truant in style, 'borrowing' Cameron's fathers 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder and taking a trip into Chicago to enjoy the sights and sounds of the big city. Pursuing them relentlessly however, is the dogged figure of school Principal Ed Rooney. Wise to Ferris' game, Rooney will stop at nothing to finally get his man and punish the elusive miscreant who has eluded him for so long.
The film triumphs where it could have sagged with such a basic premise, in its superb and strongly constructed characters. Bueller himself is in many ways a despicable little swine, but he's so wonderfully played by Broderick with enough of a cheeky grin and endearing charm to pull it off, and successfully manipulate us the audience as much as he influences the other characters. Ferris really is a symbolic figure for the age, and Hughes' construction portrays the character with a perfect balance of admiration and affection for him contrasted with an undercurrent of condemnation of what he stands for and how he acts. Bueller, for all his iconic likeability, is still written as very much the symbolic demon child of eighties consumerism. A materialistic rich kid who treats his friends almost like possessions, he is the epitome of the yuppie lifestyle to success. The fact that we still root for such an amoral schemer is a testament to the depths of Hughes deft screenplay and Broderick's well judged performance. Although the movie tries to tell us that the elaborate scheme of the day off is constructed for the benefit of all parties, it's clearly taken place for Ferris' own amusement. He's just such a slippery character it's almost as easy to be convinced that he did it as a testament to friendship.
If Bueller provides the grandstanding iconic central role, then the heart of the film surely lies with Alan Ruck's performance as hapless accomplice Cameron Frye. Baby faced Ruck was remarkably approaching 30 years old when he played Cameron, and yet he still brings the most accurate and believable performance of the film to life. He works as the complete antithesis to Ferris, shy and retiring, fearful and uncertain of where his life will take him next. It's a touching and vulnerable performance, and works brilliantly alongside the bullish actions of his best friend.
For sure there's the odd bloated moments of cynical emotion where plot necessitates, but nothing even approaching the questionable exploits of many other teen films of the era (Hughes own Breakfast Club being one of the primary guilty parties). In truth, most of the films moments of angst and pathos are surprisingly well done and restrained in comparison to the movies peers, and the scenes of reserved torment are all the more effective and believable for this. The notions of the inescapable movement of time and the inevitability of the destruction of the protagonists lives as they know it as they move into the uncertainty of the future is well realised by Hughes and provides a fitting counterbalance to the more crowd pleasing exploits of the more overtly comedic sections of the movie.
The movie also represents arguably Hughes technical peak as a director. They are some wonderfully composed visuals here (the highlight being some of the work in the art gallery), the inventive use of the camera as a character, and some great use of music.
Whilst many people would no doubt dismiss the movie as a piece of light and entertaining fluff typical of Brat Pack cinema, inspect it closer, perhaps from a different angle, and it reveals itself as a wonderful and touching examination of many themes and issues of growing up. It's an amazing film, a simple tale done so effectively and skilfully and with no small amount of innovation. Interestingly enough, this was Hughes' final directorial stab at the teen movie cycle he himself had helped to establish as a tremendous box-office force in the decade. Perhaps he felt he had achieved what he had set out to do and made a film that would say all he wanted to cinematic form. Whatever the reason, twenty years later Ferris Bueller's Day Off has stood the test of time commendably. Within its own niche and place it's an almost perfect example of the form, and as close to a work of art as the teenpic has even been.
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