Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Movie review: "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"

Spoiler alert!  This review gives away key plot elements from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," so if you haven't seen the movie, then ...

Oh, who am I kidding?  Who hasn't seen "Ferris Bueller"? The movie came out in 1986 and has become an iconic film with a devoted following and a lasting cultural impact. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard some knowing reference to a "Ferris Bueller" moment, usually followed by hearty laughter.

Those references were lost on me, because, until yesterday, I'd never seen the movie. Really. So I sat down with my kids, ages 11 and 12, to see what all the fuss is about.

My reaction: What's the big deal?

The movie has some mildly funny moments and some of Ferris' clever if far-fetched deceptions brought a smile to my face. But generally the acting is stiff and much of the plot is so implausible that suspension of disbelief is impossible (Ferris jumping on a parade float and lip-syncing a song as synchronized dancers appear out of nowhere, for example). I couldn't help noticing that none of us were laughing that much.

What makes "Ferris Bueller" stand out is its uniquely amoral tone. It portrays a high school boy lying to his parents, skipping school, stealing a car, deceiving people and generally behaving in a totally selfish manner and yet he never faces consequences for his actions. How many films have ever done that?

Probably the most amazing acrobatic trick of "Ferris Bueller" is that despite the main character's irresponsible behavior he still comes off as (somewhat) likeable. This is because director John Hughes makes all the other characters even worse: Teachers are personality-free bores. The dean of students is a clumsy dolt. Ferris' sister is full of hate, his parents are so unobservant it boggles the mind and his supposed "best friend" is a spineless wimp.

If you're a parent, you should, of course, think twice about letting your kids watch this movie. Ferris is hardly a role model, and the language in the movie is PG-13 level.  I wish I'd put this viewing off until my kids were a little older.


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