Court is no day off for Bueller

I’ll admit that I was a little bit wary when I first heard that Quentin Tarantino had purchased the character rights from John Hughes. I mean, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a wonderful little stand-alone nugget of 80’s fun. It could be argued that a sequel is unnecessary. Or that the window of opportunity for a sequel closed long ago.

But Mr. Tarantino managed to secure both the rights and the money to back them up. The result, Ferris Bueller’s Day in Court, is well worth the cost of admission (which has tripled since the first film was released). It is a brilliant interpretation of the characters, maintaining the spirit of the original, while daringly leading them into new realms. The comedy involved has grown up with its audience and fully embraced the harshness of the twenty-first century. This is a dark, violent comedy, but one which makes perfect sense when taken in the context of the people who populated Day Off. Fifteen years later, this is exactly where you would expect them to be.

The story is told through a series of flashbacks from the viewpoints of various witnesses in court, outlining the events that led up to the arrest of Ferris Bueller for insider trading. Matthew Broderick reprises his role as the conniving, eternally adolescent Bueller who refuses to acknowledge that extreme actions have extreme consequences. The shocking extent of Bueller’s crimes, skillfully revealed piece by piece in Tarantino’s brilliantly balanced screenplay, goes far beyond simple stock market tomfoolery. An ill-advised business arrangement with a Colombian cartel (hint: they weren’t selling coffee beans) had an unexpected outcome when Ferris felt compelled to conduct "quality testing" of the product on a regular basis. Quicker than you can say, "Money up your nose," he is trying to cope with massive debts to impatient people while losing his tenuous grip on his legitimate business dealings, also.

In a sequence reminiscent of the first film, in which Bueller’s arrogant charm drags those around him against their will into his plots and schemes, the solution to his Colombian problem is both startling and sadly predictable. Bueller’s innocently devoted long-time girlfriend, Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara) is presented to the Colombians as payment for the outstanding debts. Hopelessly addicted to cocaine, Sloane becomes a stress-relieving sex-slave for the cartel, passed from kingpin to kingpin for months. Finally, bruised and broken, she has a moment of clarity and rebels against her captors. She dispatches five Colombian strongmen, using only a table lamp, a wristwatch and a condom filled with nail polish, before escaping into the jungle.

As counsel for the defense we have Cameron Frye, Attorney at Law (Alan Ruck) who is torn between providing the best defense possible for his client and long-time friend or letting Bueller finally have his comeuppance. His final decision is destined to be remembered as a classic twist of modern cinema. Cameron is still the same complex person he was in the first film and Ruck portrays him in an Oscar-worthy performance. A multi-layered hypochondriac, Cameron visits his therapist twice a day. Following his therapist’s advice, once a year he flings a vintage car into a ravine, in order to exorcise his pent up aggression towards his father. And that is just the tip of the iceberg for this complicated character.

The general theme throughout the film is that of lives ruined in the wake of Bueller’s seemingly random acts of selfish indulgence. The most powerful demonstration of this is in the form of an "unnamed" vagrant, played by Jeffery Jones. He is never the focus of any scene. Tarantino instead chooses to use him, quite effectively, as background decoration. In at least half a dozen scenes, this street person is seen wandering the concrete canyons of Chicago, bellowing "GRACE!" and muttering about stale gummi bears on school buses. With a subtle stroke of detailed genius, he is wearing the same clothes worn by Ed Rooney at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Also worthy of note is Ben Stein’s darkly comic portrayal of the trigger-happy, hangin’ judge. His bland, repetitive delivery of the line, "Fry. Fry. Fry. Fry," is deeply chilling in this context.

Quentin Tarantino has done a painstakingly thorough job of paralleling pivotal scenes from the first film with equally pivotal scenes in his sequel. This is a powerful effect, demonstrating the traps that has become Bueller’s day-to-day life. In pursuit of "random" excess, Bueller’s daily life follows an almost ritualized cycle. Baseball game. Museum. Fancy restaurant. Parade. These are all the stages of a day in the life of Ferris Bueller. The most interesting parallel is the spontaneous performance of lip-synched versions of old songs. This time, Bueller bursts into song while being led through the prison to his cell. The wild dance number that becomes "Jailhouse Rock" is only outdone by the flamboyance of Ferris running from cell to cell singing, "It’s Raining Men."

Overall, Ferris Bueller’s Day in Court is a powerful, disturbing, hilarious and completely entertaining film. Tarantino has created a fantastic and thought provoking interpretation of John Hughes characters. This is a film worth seeing twice. Go. Now. See it.

You’ll thank me later.


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