The satire is the most fragile of all the genres. Drama fails or succeeds on the strength of very definite qualities like story, character, and pathos. Comedy has leeway with its execution on account of its casual tone, as even the blackest comedies have a jokey kernel. Strict genre fare or action is even more forgiving: as long as the film hits a few key points, we enjoy the parts that hit, and dismiss the parts that miss (i.e., the recent Mad Max, which is awesome yet fairly bereft of story). But with satire, if certain elements are missing – a unifying vision, a stylistic conceit, or even a single performance – then the product just feels off. So is the case with War Machine, the Netflix film from Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B Entertainment. Though the satirical aspirations of this send-up of the War on Terror are apparent and welcome, there are simply too many missteps.
In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the eponymous high school student is always the smartest person in the room – even when he isn’t really there. Ferris’ presence is always felt as he and his friends masquerade around Chicago on a beautiful school day in May, intent to play the ultimate game of hooky. This loose narrative allows the film to play with its tonality, as various vignettes or scenarios play out that have little effect on the story other than re-affirming the brilliance of Ferris. In a sense, the film works as a farce focusing on this larger-than-life teenager, but along the way it manages to speak poignant truths with timeless importance.