Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off"

While "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" has its share of good scenes and laughs, they aren't enough to distract me from the film's pandering. We do not see anything wrong with Ferris Bueller's life or Cameron's, other than what the latter whines about his father. Tellingly though, we never even see him. John Hughes panders to his teenage audience by giving them a "cool rebel" and blaming adults for what amounts to mostly imaginary problems.
There isn't really anything to rebel against: Ferris Bueller has loving parents whose love he shamelessly abuses, has a pretty girlfriend who follows him unquestioningly and seems to have virtually every student in school worship the ground he walks on. He's a fantasy of what teenagers would love to be, not the representation of anything real. We're supposed to root for him in spite of the way he manipulates and pressures his friend Cameron to do things he doesn't really want to do. We're supposed to think Principal Ed Rooney is the villain for just being overzealous in doing his damn job, when really the only thing wrong with him is that he's played by (then-future) sex offender Jeffrey Jones.
In fact, Principal Rooney and his quest to catch Ferris Bueller is the most interesting aspect of the film because his scenes are the funniest in the film. He is a character we are supposed to laugh at and, indeed, we do. We laugh at him because of Jeffrey Jones's excellent comic timing. Look at the anger and frustration in his eyes whenever he gets humiliated or loses his temper. Look at one of the final shots, during the end crédits, where he, like Ferris Bueller, breaks the fourth wall and looks at the audience in a silent plea for sympathy. It is strongly reminiscent of the way Oliver Hardy would often look at the camera in the "Laurel And Hardy" shorts after being on the receiving end of yet another of Stan's gaffes.
The scenes with Rooney are the funniest and most engaging of the film because he's taking Ferris's truancy far too personally and because he is constantly struggling to reach a goal, a goal that I actually wanted him to reach and that, I suspect, most audiences secretly wanted him to reach. Why? Because we want to see what would happen then. What will happen if Rooney manages to catch Ferris in the act? Will he get expelled? Will Ferris try and pull another trick out of his sleeve to get away with it? In "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" John Hughes would similarly (and more successfully) provide us with a character whose goal is made inaccessible by a series of comic obstacles and whose reaction to said obstacles we laugh at, all while hoping he reaches the goal in spite of them. In the latter's case, it's because it's a goal - to be with one's family - that most of us can identify with and desire. In the case of Ed Rooney, it's because, no matter how ridiculous he may be, even John Hughes seems to know, deep down, that he's right.
This is all the more engaging for the audience because, conversely, when the film switches its attention to Ferris and company, there is no such suspense and the humour is mostly derived from Cameron's and others' negative reactions to Ferris's hare-brained schemes. The film never allows Ferris to look anything but good and cool. We, like Cameron, are essentially brainwashed into accepting him as the guy we'd all want to be, the cool rebel who just wants to have fun and let his friends have fun. But herein again lies the problem: Nobody was preventing Ferris from having fun in the first place, nor did we see any evidence of Cameron being suppressed. All we have are comments about how his father loves his cars more than he loves his wife, with little attention being devoted to backing this up. Ferris essentially becomes the spokesman for the right of wealthy middle-class kids to eat at expensive French restaurants, drive Ferraris and lead the whole of Chicago in a rendition of "Twist And Shout". I wouldn't mind the film so much if it was completely honest about its amorality. A braver film would have been even more anarchic, wouldn't have put so much effort into trying to make us side with its protagonist. Think of "American Psycho" for teens, as directed and written by Gregg Araki, and you might have a decent idea of what an ideal "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" would look like to me.

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