Ferris Bueller's Day Off

(1986) *** Pg-13
102 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: John Hughes. Cast: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey.

A next generation Eddie Haskell, Ferris Bueller redefined "cool" misbehavior for Generation X. After Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, writer-director John Hughes was already famous for tapping the teen zeitgeist. Ferris Bueller's Day Off proved, in 1986, that Hughes was still on that roll (though it would be his last teen film). Highly influential to this day, Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a party movie, but also a willful last hurrah for its senior-year high-schoolers and, in a way, for its director.

Cocky, confident Ferris Bueller literally speaks to the youth audience, turning to the camera to deliver asides about swindling schools and perplexing parents. "Life moves pretty fast," he warns. "If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." To this end, Ferris cuts his ninth day of school to play sick and play hooky with game girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara) and uptight, fearful best-bud Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck), who Ferris calls "the only guy I know who feels better when he's sick."

Ferris's big adventure is to take Chicago: a snooty restaurant, Wrigley Field, a German-American pride parade, and, in a lyrical concession to culture, the Art Institute of Chicago. First, he insists on taking a cheery-red 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California convertible belonging to Cameron's father (the car's introduced to the pumping rhythm of Yello's "Oh Yeah"). At every turn, Ferris proves he's touched by the gods as he seizes the day and attempts to get Cameron to cut loose and stop playing by the rules.

It's a fine line between captivating a young audience and pandering to it, and Hughes walks it with his teen wish-fulfillment fantasy. The issue would be easier to excuse if Bueller wasn't so smug and dismissive of those who don't walk to his drumbeat, but for better or worse, nobody does teen movies with more cocky confidence than Hughes. (Also of note: Ferris' well-off, white world gets a sudden, striking influx of African-Americans during the "Twist and Shout" dance number.)

Ferris Bueller's Day Off depicts the dominant segment of disaffected modern youth with reasonable accuracy. In one reflective moment, Cameron and Sloane discuss their potential future in college and beyond:

Sloane: What are you interested in?

Cameron: Nothing.

Sloane: Me neither.

It's no wonder, then, that Hughes is wholly unsympathetic to educators. Parents are easily duped fools, but educators in Hughes movies are either clueless bores (like Ben Stein's economics teacher: "Anyone? Anyone? The tariff bill? The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act?") or sadistic, officious bureaucrats, like Dean of Students Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), an asshole on whom Hughes happily heaps indignities.

Edie McClurg scores laughs as Rooney's motherly secretary, and look for Charlie Sheen, Richard Edson, Kristy Swanson, and Max Perlich in small roles. In crafting indelible movie moments, Hughes has the significant support of DP Tak Fukjimoto (The Silence of the Lambs), choreographer Kenny Ortega (Newsies), and composer Ira Newborn (The Naked Gun).

The heart of the film comes from the only two characters with "arcs": Ruck's endearing Cameron and Ferris' jealous sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey), who learns to appreciate her brother's winning ways—both characters get dramatically spectacular turnaround moments. Mostly, Hughes keeps his eye on the laughs. The best gags are non sequiturs and ironic surprises, though nothing is funnier to Hughes (and teens) than a well-placed, choice swear word (all that PG-13 will allow).

Ferris remarks, "You can never go too far." Apparently he's cut a lot of his History and Morality classes, but there's something to be said for reminding the go-go, uptight, SAT-cram student culture to lighten up a bit. Hughes has a knack for memorable set pieces (Broderick's two lip-sync numbers, following Pee Wee Herman's take on "Tequila" the year before, spawned an '80s lip-sync mini-craze) and the horse sense to create a larger-than-life all-American hero in lively, liberated, hot pursuit of happiness. Turn the film a few degrees, and you have a satire of "the Me Decade."

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 5/5/2009

Distributor: Paramount Home Video

If Ferris were causing trouble today, he'd no doubt be claiming swine flu. Paramount's Bueller...Bueller...Edition of Ferris Bueller's Day Off—now upgraded from DVD to Blu-ray—looks better than ever in hi-def. This isn't reference quality material for the format—though for the film it may be (unless it ever gets a better high-def transfer or digital clean-up). On the whole, the film looks just as it it probably did in theaters after a couple of weeks: a bit of dirt and a scratch here or there, but certainly film-like and with accurate color and substantial detail. Though the video is best-yet, audio offers a more dramatic upgrade, with a robust, lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that especially benefits the film's music, but also the clarity of dialogue and separation of effects.

The Bueller...Bueller...Edition eliminates the sole bonus feature from the original DVD edition: the commentary by director John Hughes. This omission somewhat mars the new release (the notoriously prickly Hughes is also conspicuously absent from the freshly minted interviews), but the new bonus features offer considerable compensation.

Four new featurettes explore the film with then-and-now interviews by cast and crew. "Getting the Class Together-The Cast of Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (27:44), "The Making of Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (15:28), "Who is Ferris Bueller?" (9:12), and "The World According to Ben Stein" (10:51) include new interview footage with Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey, Edie McClurg, Ben Stein, Richard Edson (Garage Attendant), Jonathan Schmock (the snooty Maitre D'), Kristy Swanson (Economics Student), producer Tom Jacobson, and casting directors Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson; vintage interviews with Hughes, Broderick, Mia Sara, Ruck, Jones, Grey, and Stein; and B-roll footage from the set.

The featurettes are well-done, and it's interesting to see how twenty years have changed the cast, but only one is a particularly memorable hoot. "The World According to Ben Stein" hilariously lets Stein rip about the social importance of the film, his joy at being a part in it, and anything else he feels like saying. In addition to the featurettes, Paramount busts out some gems from the archives. "Vintage Ferris Bueller: The Lost Tapes" (10:15) serves up video interviews shot on the set. Mostly kidding in tone, the young players interview each other (and crack each other up) and Broderick interviews Jones in his trailer. "Class Album" is an 18-image photo gallery.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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