For those who missed the first two instalments...
Part one is here!
Part two here!
It's been a long time coming and oddly enough because I needed to rewatch "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" before finishing. Now that is a little strange seeing as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" was the one film I was sure I loved when I started this, but after seeing John Hughes other films and hating so many of them, it felt tainted somehow. Still, I gave it another watch. I cannot say I was enormously into it this time around, but "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is still good.
John Hughes' debut movie "Sixteen Candles" on the other hand....
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Ugh, I did not want to write this review.
Basically I was given the impression that John Hughes career was better in the beginning and then became cheesier and more about people being hit in the end in slapstick towards the end. So I worked backwards through his films so I could finish on a high note.
Well that backfired spectacularly. The previous film I checked out was the legedary John Hughes film "The Breakfast Club". I was surprised to find myself hating practically everyone else, particularly the 'hero' of the film, who decides early on to propose a gang-rape.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered that "Sixteen Candles" is even worse.
Anthony Michael Hall who was absolutely great in "Weird Science" and probably the most sympathetic character in "Breakfast Club", this time plays an obnoxious pick-up artist. Now that's sort of okay, because clearly we're supposed to think he's obnoxious and pathetic. Except that he is later given a passed-out girl to molest, is pressured to drive her home while drunk and takes her to his friends house so they can provide photographic proof that he had sex with her. After all that, it seems that the film expects us to find him a sympathetic character because, just like the girl, he cannot remember their evening in the morning.
BTW Caroline (above) is played by Haviland Morris who was Marla in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch". Watch that instead.
Meanwhile there's another guy who actually encourages Anthony Michael Hall to have sex with the passed-out drunk girl in the first place. He boasts that he could easily have his way with passed-out drunk girls, but the only girl who he wants is the protagonist. So he suggests that Anthony Michael Hall take his ex-girlfriend away and have his way with her. This is passed off as romantic.
The protagonist is played by Molly Ringwald and she's extremely flat in the lead role. John Cusack is in the film, but as a fairly inexpressive background character. Joan Cusack's screen presence is clear from the moment she appears, but unfortunately she's also a background character and her role is to be funny because she's disabled. No really. No gags, no subversion of norms. She's wearing a head brace and has trouble eating food at a party. End of joke. Ugh!
Oh and it gets worse. There's a racist stereotype character called Long Duk Dong. He's an exchange student from China who is staying with Molly Ringwald's grandparents. This is clearly utter nonsense. Exchange students would normally be staying with someone their own age to help them learn the language. Not with someone's grandparents in their 60s. And a bizarre gong sound is added whenever Long Duk Dong's name is uttered. And as with Joan Cusack's role, the joke seems to be simply that he is Chinese. This comedy really is aiming at the lowest common denominator. The Utah-born actor (who knows no Chinese), Gedde Watanabe, was also in the Weird Al Yancovich movie "UHF" and it's clear that he has a lot of comic talent. Sure, even in that, the racial stereotyping was awkward, but his jokes often didn't even rely on him belonging to an ethnic group and he was actually involved in genuinely funny gags. But here in "Sixteen Candles" his scenes are just painful.
About the only character that I really liked was the horrible younger brother. Sure, he's a completely obnoxious character, but at least he felt like a real person and at least he wasn't being given some kind of flawed redemption arc. Then again, perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised. He'd already been Oscar nominated for his performance in "Kramer vs Kramer" five years earlier. Pity he wasn't the main star really.
A film involving his character going around being obnoxious to everybody would probably have been a lot more entertaining.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
When the John Hughes' retrospective was going down hill, I purposefully left Ferris Bueller's Day Off til the end. Unlike "Weird Science" I'd rewatched it relatively recently and I had still felt very positive towards it.
Sadly, the context of a John Hughes' retrospective rather dampened my excitement this time around. Hughes' filmography features a category of unpleasant protagonists:
- The 'hero' in "Breakfast Club" makes a rape threat to the lead actress (before he ends the film walking arm-in-arm with her) and is generally unpleasant towards everyone.
- The selfish businessman played by Steve Martin is technically the protagonist in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" and even John Candy's blundering slob co-character doesn't feel enormously sympathetic, especially given that his defining characteristic is that he is stalking Steve Martin.
- Kevin Bacon's character in "She's Having A Baby" is in a marriage which just simply doesn't appear to be working. He and his wife simply do not seem to have chemistry with one another and Bacon's ego is just way too easy to bruise.
- Oddly Jim Belushi's character in "Curly Sue" is a shameless confidence trickster who is guilty of neglecting the needs of a young child. Yet, his character still ended up seeming more endearing than most of the protagonists above.
Perhaps it's notable that the best of the John Hughes movies don't feature morally abhorrent protagonists:
- "Weird Science" has the premise of boys who create a woman with their computer. That sounds horrendous, but when they have created her they are actually fairly gentlemanly. Their obnoxious side is simply that they only see women is something unattainable to be leered at from afar and this is something the movie needs to actively address. Their flaws are directly linked to their immaturity, lack of experience and lack of confidence, and when you take that into account, they aren't actually horrifying characters at all. (They also don't threaten to rape anyone, don't throw insults around at people for the hell of it, don't stalk anyone and don't try to stick with a relationship which clearly isn't working even though they are constantly fantasising about someone else. By John Hughes' standards they are angelic.)
- "Uncle Buck" is brought in to babysit children under extreme circumstances even though he is clearly completely unsuitable for the role of child-carer. The film cheats quite a bit on this, with the protagonist's level of patheticness seemingly altering rapidly when the plot demands it. However, the point is that the protagonist always has his heart in the right place and is never actively abhorrent.
- Okay, so actually "Sixteen Candles" struck me as one of the worst films in John Hughes' filmography and I'd argue that I'd rather it was following one of the characters who was completely unabashedly amoral. Part of the problem is the dire acting from the protagonist, but the biggest issues are all related to those character surrounding the protagonist. Anthony Michael Hall's unnamed "Geek" character has sex with an unconsious girl who, when awake, thinks he's actually her boyfriend (so he's a rapist basically). He also takes his 'conquest' to his friends (including John Cusack in what must be a career-low) so they can help him get photographic proof. There's also the racist stereotype character and the "laugh at her disability" character (Joan Cusack's career low). Finally (and this REALLY shocked me) the protagonist ends up with her dream boy, who has sent his old girlfriend off to be date raped (see above) and who brags that he can have sex with unconsious women all the time. Ugh. Just ugh. But yeah, the protagonist's biggest sin is that she's boring, so that's another exception to the rule I guess.
So, this is a review of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", so we better discuss the protagonist here: Ferris Bueller. It should be noted that Ferris Bueller is not a nice guy. He starts off manipulating his parents into letting him stay home and then immediately goes on to manipulate his friend (who may possibly be a hyperchondriac) to help him. Now, I'm not saying that this isn't effective comedy. It is. Ferris Bueller, in spite of being a bit of a prick, is admittedly funny. A great deal is owed to Matthew Broderick for milking as much comedy about of the role as is humanly possible. Similar praise must go to Alan Ruck who plays Ferris's friend Cameron.
What is rather less funny is ANY of the scenes involving the 'evil teacher'. (Thankfully this time the teacher isn't threatening to punch anyone, like in "The Breakfast Club". He's more just an uber-bureaucrat.) He's just not funny. It's like the Ferris Bueller scenes weren't slapsticky enough, so Hughes felt the need to throw it all into the scenes with this guy. The final scene with the teacher getting onto a schoolbus has always fallen flat for me, but it never occurred to me before that this is a point where finally all the humour has to come from this teacher character, the plot surrounding Ferris Bueller having completely come to an end.
I was also made more awkward this time by the scenes where Ferris Bueller's girlfriend character, Sloane (who is always decidedly in the background by comparison to the two male protagonists) starts basically seducing Cameron. Ferris is always a larger-than-life figure and so Cameron is really the character that audience members are expected to identify, so what is happening with this scene is this strange kind of male-fantasy. In this, admittedly relatively tame, fantasy the female character finds him so endearing that she's prepared to validate him perving on her because she likes the idea of being able to boost his confidence with women by acting as a kind of surrogate girlfriend for him to 'try out'. I don't know, perhaps there are people like this out there after all, but I'm sceptical.
Then again, I may be being slightly harsh here. Sure, these aren't real people and it's all fictional, but there is at least enough to these characters that I can discuss them logically. There's a sense that Cameron might actually be a more viable boyfriend for Sloane than Ferris. While Ferris is being a larger than life figure doing his own thing, Cameron would actually be completely focussed on her. It's a relationship dynamic not dissimilar to that in "Watchmen" between Dan, Sally and Dr. Manhattan.
There's one last thing I found a little dodgy and mainly because I've now seen "The Breakfast Club". Charlie Sheen turns up as a drug addict who charms Ferris' sister. The problem is he starts out being pretty rude to her, she is rightly offended, and then after a short break we find that she is necking with him and infatuated with him to the point of giggling. What happened in this gap? We simply don't know. And what originally would have seemed like a kind of movie magic, now strikes me as rather problematic. In "The Breakfast Club" we don't cut away so that the magic can happen offscreen and I was decidedly unconvinced by the pairing. Then again, Charlie Sheen's character isn't anything like so rude as Judd Nelson's character in "The Breakfast Club" and he doesn't suggest that anyone rape her, which is a plus. But this is just one more scene where my new familiarity with John Hughes other films made this harder to enjoy
"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is still a lot of fun with some great central performances which really make it work. However, it's not exactly a laugh a minute and thinking about it a bit more deeply, the story isn't really as sweet as it seemed the first time around. I think it is a legitimate question whether Cameron would be better off without Ferris, but I don't think John Hughes intends it to be quite as ambiguous as I'm finding it. Not least since this time around I cannot help but feel the answer is a big fat "Yes!" But with less effective casting I would not love Ferris Bueller at all and there would be no ambiguity in the matter. Matthew Broderick is able to be charismatic and charming enough to avoid Ferris coming across as a complete jerk and that is why Ferris does not belong in the catalogue of horrible John-Hughes-movie protagonists.
What an ungrateful frikkin' brat...
John Hughes Retrospective Ranking
1. Weird Science A+
2. Ferris Bueller's Day Off B+
3. Uncle Buck C+
4. Curly Sue C-
5. She's Having A Baby D+
6. The Breakfast Club E-
7. Planes, Trains And Automobiles U+
8. Sixteen Candles U+