Famous — or perhaps infamous – for being the movie that made Jack Nicholson consider retiring (if this was the sort of thing people wanted, he reasoned, then movies were no place for him), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is really a largely inoffensive little comedy. It just happened to catch on as part of the seemingly unstoppable wave of John Hughes movies that threatened for a time to define 1980s American film.
It’s hard to believe that Hughes’ directorial signature only appears on six movies and merely extends from the freak hit of Sixteen Candles in 1984 through the treacly disaster known as Curly Sue in 1991. His producing and writing efforts, however, make his presence seem greater than it was. And in terms of longevity, Hughes’ star was on the wane in every capacity by the early ’90s.
But this is Hughes at his most Hughes-like, and at the height of his pop-culture power. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I leave for the reader to decide.
There’s less actual story here than there is a situational setup. In order to get out of school, Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick in a role he’s never quite shaken) feigns illness — much to the irritation of suspicious principal Ed Rooney, who sets out to catch Ferris. As things snowball, his bogus sickness is transformed into a life-threatening disease, which only serves to complicate matters.
It’s a reasonable enough premise, and one still in use today (see Eugene Levy and the Olsens in New York Minute, if you dare). And it provides a satisfactory framework on which to hang a series of amusing, if rarely inspired (the “Twist and Shout” sequence notwithstanding), comedic episodes — with a very light dose of Hughes’ signature faux seriousness.
The movie is painless, and it plays better than it has any right to, thanks to Broderick’s charm and Jeffrey Jones’ enthusiastic and inept comic villainy. Some of the scenes work pretty well in their own right — notably Charlie Sheen’s brief encounter with Jennifer Grey in a police station — even if time has caught up with the movie’s once-iconic status, and it now seems more an artifact of its era than the “with it” movie it once was.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke
[Ferris Bueller’s Day Off will be shown as the season’s first Walk-In Theater offering, at dusk on Friday, April 22, in the parking lot behind the Bledsoe Building in West Asheville. The film is sponsored by Orbit DVD and the merchants of the Bledsoe Building. Admission is free — and please leave pets and alcohol at home.]