Genre: Comedy, Drama
Directed By: John Hughes
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara
We live in a nostalgic world.
It’s not so much that we want the old again, but rather the old in a new coat of paint, suited to a smarter, less easily impressed audience. We live in an age of remakes, reboots and re-releases; Karate Kid with Jaden Smith; the Indiana Jones trilogy, no longer a trilogy; and even live-actions like James Cameron’s epic Titanic are being re-released, only this time in 3D. And yet, there are some films that remain in the public consciousness – never to be touched, considered just fine by all. John Hughes’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of them.
One of Matthew Broderick’s more memorable starring roles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a poignant, thoughtful film, that is still affectionately referred to in pop media to this day, due to the way it swiftly captured the hearts of both the youth and the adults ‘back in the day’. Critic Roger Ebert pretty much nails the plot with “a […] comedy about a teenager who skips school so he can help his best friend win some self-respect”. However, Ferris Bueller has more below its surface and remains so beloved for this reason. Adults in the audience can retreat to what seemed like a lifetime ago and remember what it was like to have no idea what the future held; and teenagers identify with the feeling of complete loss and lust for life, while wanting to have a day where they can just stop and smell the roses, so to speak.
In our first sequence, we witness Ferris trick his parents into thinking he’s ill (with his tactics a little uncomfortably familiar, I must add!). This is the ninth day he has done this, he tells us, and so “better make this one count”. He describes exactly how to appear to have the correct symptoms for a day off — fake a stomach cramp, lick your palms so they feel clammy, the works. “It’s childish and stupid,” Ferris says, “but then, so is high school.” Then, he casually mentions his views on the test he had that day. European socialism. “What’s the point?” Ferris rants. “I’m not European, so who gives a crap if they’re socialists? They could be fascist anarchists, it still wouldn’t buy me a car.”
Our protagonist is a peculiar one. Self-involved, reckless and almost naive in his arrogance, yet he still manages to be likeable. Likewise, his best friend Cameron is a paranoid, nervous hypochondriac and he turns out to be the most likeable of them all. The way this is able to happen is through Hughes omnipresent wit and sharp comedic timing. Take for instance, a scene which takes place after Ferris calls Cameron to come over for one last time. “I bet Cameron is sitting in his car debating whether or not to go out,” he scoffs, and the scene cuts to Cameron who is, indeed, sitting in his car, staring at the steering wheel dejectedly. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” we’re told by Ferris earlier, and that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Cameron does end up coming over, so the two manage to create an elaborate plan so that their other friend Sloane can join them. The rest of the movie is essentially the three of them parading around downtown Chicago, getting up to all sorts of amusing and entertaining shenanigans. But really, the heart and soul does lie in the brief, revealing conversations that happen in between, each of them fleshing out the characters and coming away from the standard coming-of-age norms. This film is so much more than that.
More than funny or sweet, it perfectly epitomises the adolescent experience. It’s optimistic and melancholy, harmless yet thoughtful. It represents a specific, relatable time in a teenager’s life; the time before major decisions in regards to the rest of your existence are made. “What are you interested in?” Sloane (Mia Sara), asks Cameron (Alan Ruck). “Nothing,” he chuckles. “Me neither,” Sloane replies, laughing as well. And in that moment, that small exchange that doesn’t even last a minute, Hughes re-creates an emotion, a state of being that every young person has felt at least once in his or her lives. The feeling of seeing your future lying ahead of you, an ominous and inevitable horizon, and yet not knowing exactly what it entails. Most of all: not particularly wanting it in the first place.
If you couldn’t tell, I love Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s a film simple enough for the average movie-goer to engage in, but carefully constructed so that if you pay enough attention, you can gain a deeper meaning from it. It’s the way teenage films should be made, because that’s what being a teenager is like.
It reminds us of the potency of adolescent dreams and ambitions, but moreover the importance of this time – a fact most adults tend to forget over the years, in between mortgages and marriages, children and careers; and those teenagers will eventually forget too.