A film going along for the ride, tracking teens
By David Sterritt
In his continuing attempt to make the perfect teen-age
movie, John Hughes has focused mainly on girls - played
mainly by Mollie Ringwald, his protegee - in pictures like
''Sixteen Candles'' and ''Pretty in Pink.''
Since his latest comedy zeroes in on a boy, it may be that
''Ferris Bueller's Day Off'' is a more personal film, a more
direct expression of Hughes's own experience. But that
doesn't mean the movie digs any deeper or rings any truer
than his earlier epics.
Ferris Bueller is no more complex or compelling than other
Hughes heroes, and his ''day off'' is just another frivolous
episode, expanded to feature length through the magic of
Played with characteristic charm by Matthew Broderick, the
title character is a likable goof-off who sees high school as
a minor obstacle in his path to a nonstop good time.
Deciding to take one of his habitual days off, he begins by
faking an illness or two. Then he lures a reluctant pal and a
willing girlfriend into the plot, and commandeers a classic
car from a neighboring garage.
The rest of the story details his guilty pleasures (a wild
drive, an expensive lunch, a sunny swim) and the efforts of a
fanatical school official (played by Jeffrey Jones, leaving
behind the brilliance he showed as the emperor in
''Amadeus'') to track him down and pin a truancy rap on him.
As in most Hughes movies, there's an earnest undercurrent
running through all these shenanigans - a sense that the
filmmaker sees the adventures of his heroes as high-spirited
metaphors for a better, freer, more exuberant life than
middle-class adulthood can offer.
Hughes also tackles some potentially fascinating themes in
''Ferris Bueller's Day Off,'' including the deep rivalry
between Ferris and his sister. He even achieves one or two
striking (if self-conscious) moments of teen-age epiphany, as
when Ferris's best friend gazes transfixedly at a pointillist
painting in a museum, probably having more of a ''learning
experience'' than school has given him in years.
Once again, though, the filmmaker's small-time sensibilities
put a damper on the show.
Hughes identifies so closely with his characters that he
becomes one of them - seeking not to understand, but merely
to wallow in their shared obsession with cars, comfort,
budding sexuality, and freedom from responsibility.
His portraits of their adversaries (square schoolmates and
authorities) are accordingly simple-minded and cartoonish.
And he indulges his usual attitude of airy contempt toward
the parents who have provided Ferris and his friends with
every middle-class luxury they could possibly ask for -
although poor Ferris gets a nod of sympathy for having
received a computer as his latest gift, not the automobile he
so desperately needed.
I remain interested in Hughes's quest to capture teen
experience on film, but I'm disappointed that he still hasn't
gotten more than an inch below the surface of his subject.
''Ferris Bueller's Day Off,'' hovering between the
pretentiousness of ''The Breakfast Club'' and the stupidity
of ''Weird Science,'' is a minor summertime diversion that
could have been much more.