'Ferris': More Teen Tedium|
By Paul Attanasio, Washington Post Staff Writer
At the outset, you think that "Ferris Bueller's Day Off,"
the latest product from teen anthropologist John Hughes, is
going to capture the beautiful blitheness of the last term of
high school, that time when the past is past and the future
is arranged and nothing at all matters.
Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), a student in the
comfortable suburbs of Chicago, is an irresistible smoothie
-- he glides through life, a Jay Gatsby to his classmates,
getting everything he wants. He's a virtuoso of sweet
manipulation and master of the "sick out," so when the
morning radio reports a beautiful spring day, he decides to
fake an illness and skip school.
His comrades in this venture are his chum Cameron (Alan
Ruck), a nervous, awkward kid whose father bullies him, and
girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara), a cutie who'd follow Ferris
anywhere and, through the course of the movie, does. His
adversaries are his unsuspecting parents and the school
disciplinarian, Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), who suspects
And his tools are the technological toys of a privileged
teen, including a computer (which he uses to alter his school
records), a synthesizer (with which he manufactures the
various coughing and gurgling sounds of his "illness"),
telephone answering machines and the telephone itself. As
Hughes deftly works these props, to the vivid consternation
of the snakelike Rooney, the first half hour of "Ferris
Bueller's Day Off" is an easy ride, fueled by a riotously
funny cameo by screen writer Ben Stein as the most boring
history professor God ever created.
Composer Ira Newborn's playful music, an eclectic mix of new
wave, neo-'60s rock and homages to film and TV scores, moves
things along, too, but after that first half hour the movie
starts to flag, and soon after that it dissolves into what is
pretty close to a complete mess. "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"
founders on the same reef as all of Hughes' movies, from
"Sixteen Candles" to "The Breakfast Club" -- either he has no
sense of story construction or, worse, he just doesn't care.
The emotional core of the movie belongs to the subsidiary
character, Cameron, who has to learn to stand up to his dad;
it's not just that Hughes' teen moralism here is typically
banal, but that it has little to do with the motion of the
story generally, and less to do with Ferris, who commands the
story's center. The character of Ferris, on the other hand,
is nothing more than his continuing hijinks -- Hughes never
gets inside him in the way that Paul Brickman got inside the
fundamentally similar hero of "Risky Business." The whole
script is off-balance.
So "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" proceeds as a downhill series
of riffs. There is an extended (and exceedingly familiar)
farce routine, borrowing broadly from the "Pink Panther"
series, in which the hapless Rooney steps in mud, gets bitten
by a guard dog, is assaulted by a karate-trained young girl
and has his car towed away. The technological tricks with the
stereo and the phone machines continue throughout, with
consistently diminishing comic returns. There is a subplot,
more or less stolen from "Risky Business," involving the
destruction of a Ferrari. And so forth.
Broderick, a likably fresh-faced young actor with enormous
technical gifts, plays the material well, but there's awfully
little material for him to play -- the throwaway ironies of
the role make him seem affected and kittenish. Ruck is set
loose to improvise, which results in mugging nearly as
embarrassing as Jon Cryer's in the last Hughes epic, "Pretty
in Pink," and when he launches into his big emotional speech
at the end (the "My old man pushes me around . . . " speech),
only an inveterate rubbernecker would want to watch him.
At the expense of sounding like Norman Podhoretz (and that's
a high price to pay), the unavoidable conclusion is that all
those crabby cultural conservatives who bemoaned the '60s
were right -- the tyranny of youth has proven a nearly
unmitigated disaster for American movies. At one point in
"Ferris Bueller," Sloan and Cameron are discussing college
and the future. "What are you interested in?" she asks.
"Nothing," he replies. "Me either," she says. The moment is
presented wholly without irony, and you have to wonder why
anyone would want to make a movie about such mindlessly dull
rich kids, or why you'd want to spend 100 minutes in the dark
with them. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, at area theaters, is
rated PG-13 and contains profanity.