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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

****
1986

‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off still works like a cure to stave the blues away…’

I wasn’t 18 yet when I saw John Hughes’ seminal teen comedy at the cinema, but already sensed that this would prove something of a high-water mark for the genre; Hughes was deeply interested in what makes young people tick, and was already building up quite a reputation as a chronicler of the younger generation via Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and more. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of his breeziest films, a light, colourful and delightfully freewheeling view of the lives of high schoolers in the suburban environs of Chicago circa 1986

What’s at stake here? Almost nothing; the biggest plot point here is that the film’s central character, Cameron (Alan Ruck) may have to explain to his father why there’s damage to his prize Ferrari. The responsibility for the damage is largely on Cameron’s smart-alec pal Ferris, who is taking a sick day in his final year of high school, and despite being remarkably well-heeled in terms of computers and synths, remains in need of a stylish ride for him and his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara). Ferris is a popular figure, beloved by his class-mates, but with some real issues with authority; he’s a rebel, but one with a cause. ‘A person should not believe in an ism, he should believe in himself.Ferris cheerfully agrees with John Lennon, and as the trio head off for an eventful day in the Windy City, their secret goal is to think for themselves and question all manner of authority. With towers to climb, parades to join, baseball games to attend, posh maître de’s to deflate and more, it’s never boring when Ferris is around…

Probably the best example of a film that manages to consistently and deliberately break the fourth wall, Hughes’ film features a number of characters who address the audience, even if only with a resigned look. Ferris himself isn’t shy about sharing his inner thoughts, which do seem unnaturally wise for a generation of teens usually preoccupied with team sports and shower-room spying. But Ferris isn’t as fixated on sex as his peers; he’s about living life to the full and inspiring others to do the same, and that’s where Cameron’s conflict comes in. This is a culturally literate film; it’s hard to complain about things being dumbed down when Cameron’s silent communion with George Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte proves to be a crucial pivot.

If Ferris can seem like something of a smart-ass, that’s allowed given that his plans are so satisfyingly ingenious; he runs rings around principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) and his assistant, played by the Edie McClurg with a permanent supply of pencils behind her ear. And this day off also takes time to give agency to Ferris’ sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) who finds her own groove making out with a bad boy (yes, who else but Charlie Sheen!) in a police station, much to her mother’s annoyance. There’s more than a handful of stone-cold classic scenes here, starting with the art gallery visit set to the Dream Academy’s cover of the Smith’s Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want, part of a great, never-published soundtrack. Throw in the rousing parade sing-alongs, the accidental destruction of the ‘dad’s joy’ Ferrari; this seemed like a pleasing movie back in 1986, in 2022, it seems almost profound. Life moves pretty fast, and if you don’t take a moment to look around, maybe you could miss it. In the grim times we’re living in, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off still works like a cure to stave the blues away.

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    • Great comment; I looked into these theories, that ferris is dead, or that this is a Fight Club scenario and Ferris and Cameron are two halves of one whole. While I’m not in complete agreement with that notion, I do think that Cameron is the real protagonist who changes, and Ferris is the catalyst that makes it happen.

  1. Getting back to our Freebie and the Bean and Blue Thunder discussions: this was also adapted as a decrepit, U.S. network TV series that didn’t make it to the end of the season.

    I recall the rip off, Parker Lewis Can’t Loose (on the upstart FOX-TV network in the U.S., starring Corin Nemic), lasted longer; two or three seasons.

    • I’ve been delving into the TV show for Ferris, and despite Jennifer Aniston’s involvement, I’m not seeing much reason to open this particular box up again…

      • Oh, that’s right! I TOTALLY forgot about her pre-Friends involvement. (Don’t mention this or Leprehacan to her — not unless you want to upset her, is my understanding — if you come to interview her.)

        • Get a set up like Ferris; who else had an IBM mainframe at home with net access? Outside of Broderick in Wargames?

          • Right! Who had these bedrooms in real life? My teen bedroom was a wee-bigger than a dorm room that had enough for a bed, a dresser, and a nightstand. Meanwhile, these movie brats have living room furnishings — on top of the bedroom wares — inside, to go with the latest tech gear to stump the ‘rents.

            And the suction cup basketball hoop on the door set-dress cliche. No one did that, ever.

  2. Though much beloved by my generation, this was a movie that for some reason always rubbed me the wrong way. In fact, I had a passionate hate for it. I think a lot had to do with Bueller’s smugness. I also hated the kids like Bueller in my high school. I wanted to kill them with buzz saws.

    Also: teans.

    • I wondered if I’d hate it now, maybe Ferris’s sense of self is the start of me-ism. But I’d implore you to try this again. Maybe it was harder to be like Ferris than we thought, but it’s still worth a try…thanks for the typo!

    • I also never connected with Ferris….perhaps I was too old when I saw it for the first time. I didn’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. It just sort of washed past me and never stuck. Perhaps I should give it another look….time has a way of changing my opinions in both directions.

      • Worth noting that Ferris isn’t the main character; this is an Amadeus type story where the apparent hero is actually the antagonist. We don’t all get to be Ferris, but Cameron is who we empathise and identify with, and life lessons are learnt.

    • It’s because no teenager is that “on” all the time; that smart, resourceful or ahead of the curve.

      I get comedy is to be heightened and a little outside of reality (No Stooge can survive that many eye pokes!), but Ferris? The whole movie just reminds of that awful, rata-tat-tat TV comedy writing where no one gets burnt. There’s always a comeback. Everyone is “on” all the time. I’ve argued that the U.S. syndicated Saved by the Bell (awfully) ripped Ferris lock and stock: I’ve also been told I’m wrong on that point.

      But, as someone commented: still Matt’s best film. And with drek like The Freshman, you see my point.

      • I hear you, but Ferris is a smart teenager in movieland; the characters around him are recognisable from other Hughes films; the Charlie Sheen character might as well be Bender from TBC. As I noted elsewhere, Ferris is the antagonist, and the presence Jeffrey Jones isn’t the only reason that this is Amadeus. Cameron is the character who changes, ferris is a stick of rock, the same all the way through a la James Bond.

        Saved by the Bell was massive in the UK, probably still running…

        • Yes, you are on-point with the Amadeus analogy.

          Saved by the Bell was massive in the United Kingdom? I never knew that. How is it no U.K. programs are imported to be massive hits, here? And I’ve watched some pretty good British shows.

          I guess we are more inclined to remake than import (the really great Extras and The Office come to mind.)

          • Sure, but when a game-changing quality production like Saved by the Bell comes along, you can throw out the rule book…

            • There was this less-than-a-season baseball drama stateside, Pitch, about the major leagues’ first female player. The series wasn’t so great (and got abysmal ratings), but Mark-Paul Gosselaar was good as the grizzled team captain (which is why I watched: to see what he was up to; he impressed). He was also good in Precious Cargo (2016) with Bruce Willis (Clair Forlani was Mike’s co-lead!!). He can hold his own — and should, more often.

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