FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Directed by: John Hughes

Written by: John Hughes

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey, Lyman Ward & Cindy Pickett

With a series of 80’s teenager films that were made to be as smart as they were entertaining, director/writer John Hughes became the voice of a generation (that came slightly before my own). Even though it’s currently reaching its 30th anniversary, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF remains every bit as amusing and enjoyable as it likely was in its heyday. Besides featuring Matthew Broderick’s best performance (which isn’t saying a whole hell of a lot when you consider his recent output), BUELLER is a light-hearted romp packs entertainment, laughs, and even a few genuine emotions into fast-paced 102 minutes.

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It’s a beautiful day in Chicago and high school senior Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) has no intention of going to school. After getting his parents (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett) to fall for a carefully calculated sick routine, Bueller sets up elaborate precautions to ensure that nobody catches on to his fake illness. With girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and reluctant best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) also in tow, the teenage trio drive downtown to live life to its fullest. Little does Ferris know that two people aren’t falling for his act. One of these skeptics is jealous younger sister Jeannie (Jennifer Grey), who becomes bound and determined to expose Ferris’ charade to her parents. The other is stuff-shirted Principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), who wishes to hold Bueller back for another heavily monitored year of high school.

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Will Ferris get back to his house on time? Will Jeannie or Principal Rooney expose his lies? Will Cameron stand up to his emotionally abusive father? Could this film only make sense in the 80’s, because modern technology would almost certainly ruin Bueller’s day off? To discover the answers to these questions and more, you’ll just have to watch the movie. It’s fairly obvious that BUELLER isn’t meant to be taken seriously. You have to suspend your disbelief as Ferris narrowly avoids many encounters with his naïve parents, Rooney commits crimes in his quest to expose Bueller, and Jeannie goes through a brief story arc that is instantly forgotten a few minutes later. Taken as pure entertainment though, BUELLER is guaranteed to keep a grin on your face.

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As mentioned before, Matthew Broderick isn’t exactly known for his acting prowess. He’s appeared in plenty of flops (e.g. 1998’s GODZILLA, 1999’s INSPECTOR GADGET, and 2006’s DECK THE HALLS). Ferris Bueller is easily the best performance of Broderick’s career. It’s hard to imagine any other actor in this role. Broderick perfectly captures smart-ass mannerisms, an honest attitude, and makes this titular slacker into a lovable protagonist. In a creative stylistic choice, John Hughes decided to have Ferris frequently break the fourth wall to give the audience his direct reactions and thoughts. These bits are used for comedic effect, but also give us a window into Ferris’ mind.

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Broderick’s leading role isn’t the only great performance though, because the supporting cast is especially strong. Though we are only given small details about her, Mia Sara shines as Sloane and has solid chemistry with Broderick. Jennifer Grey is so entertaining as Jeannie that I was almost rooting for her. This character also receives a fun story arc that isn’t quite consistent with later actions. Even though this might potentially be seen as inconsistent writing, Jeannie’s shifting motives provide the funniest sequence in the film (you’ll know it when you see it). Lyman Ward is unrealistically oblivious as Ferris’ father, but also receives plenty of laughs as a result. Jeffrey Jones is fantastically slimy as Principal Rooney, giving one of the most memorable performances of his career. In the real world, people would likely be rooting for this character, but Jones plays Rooney as a pompous scumbag and gets plenty of abuse inflicted upon him (usually due to his own stupid actions).

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Alan Ruck’s Cameron stands head and shoulders above the rest of these side characters. Though he initially seems like a straight-man to Bueller’s comedic hero, Cameron’s subplot (involving his father’s precious Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder, which would currently be worth around a million dollars) has a surprisingly deep conclusion. His complete story arc is akin to something you’d see in Hughes’ own BREAKFAST CLUB as opposed to a silly comedy about a kid playing hooky. Ruck’s final moments inject well-executed emotional levity into a film that could have easily coasted by on laughs alone.

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To cap off the wonderful characters, funny writing and upbeat attitude, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF runs at a perfectly paced speed and never comes close to overstaying its welcome. You’ll likely want to watch past the film’s conclusion as one hilarious joke spans through the end credits. Whether you’re viewing it through the eyes of a rebellious teenager, a nostalgic adult or someone who’s just craving a good comedy, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF is an entertaining blast from start to finish.

Grade: A

THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: John Hughes

Written by: John Hughes

Starring: Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Paul Gleason & John Kapelos

Often labeled as one of the “greatest movies of the 80’s” and a film that defined a generation, THE BREAKFAST CLUB is one of director/writer John Hughes’s most famous titles. Over three decades later, it still has tons of fans, old and young. This is especially surprising when you consider that this film is basically a bunch of teenagers having different conversations in the space of one day. The film didn’t just get its reputation by being an 80’s comedy-drama featuring the “Brat Pack,” but instead received acclaim from having genuinely compelling characters and an honest emotional core at its center.

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On a Saturday morning, five students reluctantly report to school for an all-day detention. They are there for a variety of reasons. John Bender is the troublemaker who enjoys making the assistant principal’s life as well as the lives of those around him difficult. Claire Standish is the popular rich girl who has a seemingly perfect existence. Andy Clark is a jock who’s trying to do his time in order to compete in his next wrestling meet. Brian Johnson is an over-achieving geek with straight A’s. Finally, Allison Reynolds is the silent outcast. Through the space of day, these teenagers from very different social cliques and lifestyles will come together, bond, and walk away as changed individuals with a new lease on life.

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That sounds like a rather cheesy plot synopsis and it doesn’t quite do justice to the touching, profound nature of this film. This is essentially PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER of the 80’s. The screenplay, by John Hughes, starts off as funny and then slowly peels away (with humor) layer-by-layer to reveal the emotional truth beneath it all. The interaction between these five troubled teenagers feels realistic. We immediately have a sense of who these characters are from their brief introductions in the parking lot to how they compose themselves when the assistant principal enters the room. As the film goes on, the characters’ hostility towards one another gradually gives way to an appreciation of who they are and deeper questions of identity. I definitely wasn’t expecting this from an 80’s teen comedy, but that’s exactly why THE BREAKFAST CLUB sticks out from the pack of many other typical, generic 80’s rom-coms.

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The aforementioned conversations that make up the film consist of what landed these kids in detention, their difficult home lives, and various other problems. However, the dialogue extends into far more mature territory as cliques and social structures are brought up in intelligent, funny ways. Each of these conversations is brought to life by the five protagonists. All of these characters are worth analyzing individually, but my personal favorites are Judd Nelson’s Bender and Molly Ringwald’s Claire. The former starts off as an unlikable (but entertaining) punk and then gradually morphs into a far more compelling, sympathetic character. The latter seems like a stand-offish spoiled brat, but gains empathy for her peers as the detention moves forward.

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For a film that’s about five teenagers stuck in a library, BREAKFAST CLUB is more than interesting to watch and well-constructed in every aspect. John Hughes was an amateur filmmaker at the time and used a meager budget of 1 million to fulfill this passion project. The movie was shot on location at an Illinois high school and packs itself with more believable emotion and hard-hitting issues than most other serious dramas or slice-of-life comedies carry. It’s a film driven purely by believable acting and strong writing and should be praised for accomplishing so much with so little. Even the assistant principal becomes a complex character through his own minor story arc. Hughes could have easily just painted this authority figure as a one-note antagonist, but instead fleshes him out through a couple of stand-out sequences. He’s a man who seems to come to his own revelation by the time the final monologue closes out the film.

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THE BREAKFAST CLUB is far more than just an 80’s classic or well-regarded teen comedy. There’s a reason that the film is still gaining new fans. There are actually high-school students at my workplace who praise this movie to the heavens. It speaks volumes that the film is still being discovered by a new audience and remains relevant to a generation who didn’t even live through the 80’s. That’s because the story and performances provide laughs and dramatic weight in equal measure. It’s as an uplifting viewing experience and I wanted to throw my fist in the air (much like Bender does in the final shot) as the end credits began to roll. THE BREAKFAST CLUB is a wonderful film that will never be forgotten!

Grade: A+

PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES (1987)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: John Hughes

Written by: John Hughes

Starring: Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins, Michael McKean, Kevin Bacon & Dylan Baker

As revered as John Hughes may be, I don’t necessarily love everything the man put out to the degree that most people do. Hughes deserves credit on writing charming comedic tales that never took themselves too seriously, but also maintained a degree of sensitivity. This being said, there’s a certain formula to his screenplays that can be a tad too predictable. Take PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES for example. I know people who absolutely love this movie and have made a tradition of watching it around Thanksgiving every year. Having finally watched it for the first time (I’ve seen certain clips on Youtube before), I can safely say that it’s a decent flick. There’s definitely an entertainment factor and a certain charm, but I don’t necessarily get the love that most people have for it (hear me out before crucifying me).

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Neal Page is a stressed out businessman who wants to get home to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately for Neal, his flight is delayed and then held over in another airport. Luckily for Neal, he’s befriended the overly polite Del Griffith who seems to have a solid head on his shoulders in spite of his naïve nature. It quickly becomes apparent that Del isn’t exactly as smart as he originally seemed and the two polar opposite guys trek across many states in a race against time as Thanksgiving draws closer with every passing second. Neal and Del have their differences, but they’re stuck together through various forms of transportation (hence the title).

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The formula for PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES is a simple one. Overworked curmudgeon (in this case, Steve Martin) meets annoying slob (in this case, John Candy) and hijinks ensue. I can understand why people love this film so much during certain moments. There are genuinely hilarious bits (the best of which either being a meltdown from Martin at a rental car office or the pair being stuck in a car on the highway). This film is the reason that 2010’s DUE DATE exists (which was pretty much a remake under a different name and packed with cruder sensibilities). PLANES is funny in a charming way, but suffers thanks to an overly predictable and corny plot. I didn’t feel much sympathy for Del and certain moments of the movie hinge on that. One overly manipulative revelation near the ending is a heavy-handed tactic to shift the viewer’s feelings for this otherwise annoying slob, but I didn’t buy it.

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This being said, Martin and Candy do have good comedic chemistry together. I must applaud the character of Neal for remaining patient as long as he was, because plenty of people (including myself) would have snapped at John Candy’s goofball long before Martin actually says anything obviously mean to the guy. This is your typical mismatched duo but they are convincing enough as polar opposites. It’s also worth noting that the film scored the R rating for one scene and that single moment alone. It involves Martin yelling at someone with the F-bomb being said every other word, but otherwise there’s nothing too objectionable here. It makes me wish that Hughes had toned that moment down for a PG-13 rating, because this feels like more of a family friendly outing than an R-rated comedy.

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PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES is a decent comedy that’s charming and funny, but does suffer from an overly predictable and manipulative sappy script. There are definitely moments of greatness, but there are also a fair share of problems I had with the movie as well. Martin and Candy bounce off each other in silly ways and that’s what really counts in a film like this, but I just wish the movie had less clichés and better reasons to care about these people on an emotional level (since that is where Hughes tries to take things in the final third). PLANES is worth a viewing, but might play better in the company of friends around Thanksgiving as a one time watch.

Grade: B-

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