Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Posted: October 6, 2013 in Favorite Films
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7. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Director: John Hughes

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Mia Sara, Alan Ruck, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey

In almost any other movie, the kid who skips school to hang out with friends would be either the antagonist, or at the very least someone who has a great life lesson to learn by the end of the film. Like Alex DeLarge from “A Clockwork Orange,” Ferris Bueller falls under neither category. Unlike Alex, Ferris never commits any acts of evil. He comes across as a kid who just wants to have a bit of harmless fun, and wants those in his company to be able to feel good about themselves. This is thanks to an iconic performance from the always charming Matthew Broderick, as well as a key artistic choice established with the film’s opening scene. Ferris has just convinced both of his parents that he is sick enough to stay home from school. As they leave, Ferris sits up, looks straight into the camera and says, “They bought it!”

Ferris is talking to us when he says this, and will do so again throughout “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Sometimes, he’ll respond to another character’s dialogue by throwing us a quick reaction shot, as if looking for acknowledgment that we feel the same way. This makes him more than just an ordinary protagonist. Ferris is our tour guide through his escapades, and his inspirational commentary comes from a young man who is wise beyond his years. Consider the recurring quote: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and a while, you could miss it.” These are words to live by. Of course, being a teenager, he balances that out with moments of brazen immaturity, such as his insistence on taking his friend Cameron (Alan Ruck)’s father’s prized Ferrari out for a cruise, or in performing “Danke Schoen” and “Twist and Shout” on a parade float in front of dozens of witnesses.

There are those in the movie who do not have the privilege of seeing Ferris from our perspective. His sister Jeannie (Jennifer Grey) doesn’t believe him when he says he’s sick. She spends so much time being incensed by her little brother’s ability to do whatever he wants that it takes a conversation with a young man at a police station (Charlie Sheen, in an excellent cameo appearance) who has been arrested on drug possession to point out that her attention should be focused on her own problems. But it’s Principal Edward Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) who seems to truly have it in for our hero. More than anything, he wants to catch Ferris in the act of truancy, just to be able to hold him back in school another year. The first priority of an educator should always be his/her students’ personal growth, and no pleasure should ever be taken in a student’s failure. Thus, Mr. Rooney is easy to hate, but Jeffrey Jones is the right actor to keep him from being completely despicable. In the end, even he gets to break the fourth wall, much in the same way that Wile E. Coyote would.

Now 27 years since its original release, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is still just as effective even though the world has changed a great deal (the Sears Tower is no longer the world’s tallest building). Aside from Broderick’s performance, writer/director John Hughes is largely responsible. The man always had an uncanny ability to express an understanding of what the life of a teenager is truly like. Even though his adults are largely written to be either mean or dumb, sometimes coming off as caricatures, his children always feel like people you could know in real life, or people with whom you would genuinely want to be friends. The character of Ferris Bueller doesn’t just make you want to be his friend; he makes you want to be him. As the smart kid who everyone in town knows and/or looks up to, has a family he loves and a stable relationship with a cheerleader girlfriend, Ferris is the epitome of cool.


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