Tag Archives: review

A spirited and completely biased defense of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

22 Jan

I was somewhat horrified this morning when I read this economic critique of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the Paris Review (h/t The Daily Dish).

I can’t even pretend to be objective about this – FBDO stands alone as my favorite film of all time. Nevertheless, the critique, which seeks to interpret the film as some kind of capitalist pean, profoundly misses the point.

Before my eyes, therentier class was daydreaming a special dream, a dream of getting away from the drudges and the scolds …

It continues…

But I would like to argue that the movie advocates not supply-sider ideology per se, or not only supply-sider ideology, but something more pernicious.

Perhaps there may, in some way, if you look at it right, be some evidence that maybe Hughes was making some kind of pro-market allusions (though I doubt it). But if you’re watching FBDO for the first time (or at least the first time in a decade, as the author claims) and your first thought is What A “Pernicious” Pro-Capitalist Film, you are profoundly missing the point.

FBDO is at its heart a romantic story. It drives its characters into the coming great unknown of adulthood while urging them to hold onto the beauty and humor that makes life about more than just existing – a beauty and humor that children grasp easily but adults (such as the principal) lose sight of.

The film is precisely NOT about economics. None of the decisions Ferris, Cameron and Sloane make sense from an economic perspective, but that’s the point: that sometimes living is about throwing your concerns to the wind to embrace a moment that points to something more important than day to day normalcy and existence.

The setting of FBDO is not universal. It portrays a midwestern, middle to upper-middle class teenage experience. But the aspiration to break free, at least temporarily, from the bonds and responsibility of daily life to experience something grander, I believe, is much more universal.

This comment on the Paris Review post put it best:

I think this is a gross over-analyzation of a movie that was really vicariously being the person we all wanted, but were all afraid, to be: Ferris.

After reading this, I went to my husband. I said, “Remember the movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Remember his friend, Cameron? Remember the Ferrari? What was the deal with the Ferrari?”

To which my husband replied without missing a beat, “He thought his dad loved the car more than he loved him.”


Conan, Day 2

9 Nov

If the premiere of Conan showed that the comedian was excited to be back on the air, then the second episode demonstrated that O’Brien can still produce good comedy under pressure.

There were still NBC and TBS jokes, but they fewer and were offset with topical, news-based humor. These kind of quick-hit one-liners aren’t Conan’s strong suit, but it good that he’s still planning on making room for them. The new job jokes will probably only hold for a few more days before becoming stale.

The substance of the show was better than day one, drawing Tom Hanks and Soundgarden. I mean, Tom Hanks! Conan even managed to get Hanks to play along with a physical comedy bit which involved Hanks getting wet. The more pronounced presence of physical comedy is a Conan signature and if done well will be a great way for the show to differentiate itself from competitors.

All in all, a strong show. I’ll continue to tune in.

Franzen ends Freedom with unexpected redemption

7 Nov

Freedom, the novel sensation of the fall by Jonathan Franzen, has been appropriated by popular sociology and journalists in an almost bizarre myriad of ways in an attempt to glean to some insight into what Americais now.

That so many people would attempt to do this now, at this particular moment in time, is perhaps more indicative of a broader anxiety among intellectual, journalistic and chattering classes to find some kind of new meaning for our current societal moment than Franzen’s ability to speak some new truth about life in America. Franzen himself in a PBS Newshour interview denied that he had written Freedom as a “social novel” to illuminate our times.

That does not mean, however, that Freedom has nothing to say about America here and now. In fact, it has a lot to say. But as Franzen has previously said, it’s a novel written for people living now, not for people living 200 years from now. The setting of the novel (and I mean setting in the broadest possible point) isn’t the point, but it is the background, the environment, that makes the novel possible. We seem so impressed that a novel, and a great novel at that, is written about us, about our time, our cultural and social moment, that in many cases the story itself is forgotten. Or, perhaps even worse, parts of the story are excerpted out of context to make a cultural point and the overall arch of the narrative is lost.

To focus on the cultural anecdotes that pepper Freedom, the tips of the hats to readers from Generation X and the Milennials, while ignoring the larger message of Freedom is the greatest violence that can be done to this work.

The larger message of Freedom is quite simple, which stands in stark contrast to the ever-increasing complexity of the narrative as the novel rolls along.

But first, the narrative of Freedom is quite complicated. The novel focuses on the Berglunds, a middle-class family living in a gentrified section of St. Paul, Minnesota. Walter, politically liberal and aesthetically conservative, mortgages his environmental radicalism for more pragmatic progress on his conservancy projects. Meanwhile, Walter’s wife Patty, the sleek former college basketball star, slowly suffocates under the weight of middle-class pleasantness and stealthfully seeks out the unreliable affection of Richard Katz, Walter’s former college roommate and mid-grade musician, and the rockster lifestyle that entails. And Joey, Walter and Patty’s teenage son, falls in love with the emotionally needy and depressive daughter of the God n’ Guns Republicans that live next door.

The potential for conflict is obvious and the first half of the novel is spent spinning of the web of storylines and characters decisions that are then unravelled to devastating effect in the second half. Despite this long set-up, the exposition doesn’t come off as meandering or boring. Rather, Franzen takes the time to develop each character – Walter, Patty, Richard, Joey – in such depth that that each one carries the same emotional force and complexity throughout the course of the story. Franzen’s adept use of the third person limited to build each character only adds to the richness of the second half of the novel.

The second half of the novel could be called the fall, as the numerous contradictions, lies and conflicts sown during the first 200 pages or so begin to drag the characters’ lives ever-so-slowly and sometime unexpectedly into a seeming abyss. It is in this part of the novel where Franzen’s primary message emerges. Not unsurprisingly, the point ofFreedom is freedom. The characters have taken their freedom and with it they have built themselves a personal hell. In several cases, they use freedom to put into motion situations and chain reactions that ultimately rob them of freedom.

Franzen does not strike me as a particularly religious or faith-holding person, but his novel is a powerful telling of The Fall. Adam and Eve use their freedom in a way that brings curse, the consequences of their actions reaching far beyond what they had presumably ever anticipated. The choices made by the Berglunds bring about their own kind of curses, forcing characters into increasingly morally-bankrupt choices.

Freedom comes close to being a tragedy. A real American Tragedy.

But it is not.

To reveal why would give away too much, but there is redemption. You get the sense that Franzen wanted to end the novel tragically, to pound the characters into the oblivion of the hell they had created. But for whatever reason, he couldn’t do it. And so redemption comes. It is too simplistic to be completely satisfying, but it comes. The key to their redemption is freedom, the very thing they used to bring suffering upon themselves in the first place.

Perhaps Franzen needed to needed to show freedom was not evil and did not bend downward morally. Perhaps Franzen wanted to leave a parting gift to his casual audience – the many readers for whom Freedom may be one of only novels at most they read this year – those who are trained on 30-minute sitcoms and 90-minute romcoms whose tidy packaging mean they’ll always turn off the TV or leave the theater feeling as though they’ve absorbed some profound (in reality bite-size and ordinary) moral or message.

Personally, I prefer to think Franzen wrote quick and dirty redemption into his novel at the last minute as an exercise of his freedom. His freedom as the author, the creator, to wrest back control of the narrative from the fatally-flawed characters he set into motion. His dictate on paper that suffering and misery and despair will not have the last word.

And if Freedom is suppose to be a reflection of America, then I can’t imagine a more appropriate ending. To showcase in the final few pages the chance to steer destiny and fate, despite odds and reality – a belief, however true or false – that remains at the core of the American psyche: That is freedom.


PBS Newshour interview with Jonathan Franzen