It was thirty years this month that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was released, and to honor the occasion I watched it again last night. I’m glad to learn that it is fresh and funny as it was in 1986.
Of the eight films John Hughes directed, I think it’s the best (just a shade better than Planes, Trains, and Automobiles), and while it purports to be about teenagers, I think it’s message is universal–Ferris (Matthew Broderick) can’t deal with school on such a beautiful day–but that translates to adulthood, too. How many of us have awakened, unable to face a work day when the sun is shining?
The entire film is structured something like a Warner Brothers cartoon. Ferris is pretty much perfect. His parents favor him and have no doubts about his being sick (in one of his frequent monologues to the audience, he tells us clammy hands is the clincher). He has a perfect girlfriend (Mia Sara) and is something of an electronics genius, able to hack into the school’s attendance records. He is like Bugs Bunny.
But like Bugs Bunny, he has nemeses. There are two here–his sister (Jennifer Grey), who fumes with resentment that she can’t get away with what he can, and Mr. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), the hapless Dean who is determined to catch Broderick skipping school. Jones is the Elmer Fudd, or Yosemite Sam, of the picture, constantly outwitted by Bugs and heaped with indignity. What a great ending, when he is tattered and wounded, riding the school bus, offered a gummy bear by his seatmate?
The character that makes Ferris Bueller’s Day Off interesting is when it veers away from the cartoon aspects. That is Cameron, played by Alan Ruck, a neurotic who may be suicidal. Broderick’s best friend, he is a whipped dog, afraid of his father, who loves a car more than him, and goes along skittishly with every one of Broderick’s schemes. Some consider him the lead of the film, that the true climax is when that car goes crashing down a hillside, and Ruck will have to confront his father. But we never see him after that, and can only wonder about him.
Some people go further than than, and suppose that Ferris is just a figment of Cameron’s imagination. The “Fight Club” theory has that Cameron imagines the whole thing, creating an alter ego that is perfect. Sara is his dream girl, who he has never even talked to. He lives vicariously through Ferris’ adventures, and through this is able to come to the decision to deal with his father.
Of course, the whole thing breaks down when you consider there are scenes in the movie that Cameron can not know about it, such as Grey’s subplot or Jones’ misadventures at the Bueller house. But one can’t help but feeling affected by the Ruck characterization. His breakdown in the garage, with Broderick and Sara looking on, horrified, seems too real in an otherwise light-hearted romp.
Now that I’m a teacher I appreciate this movie a little more. The Ben Stein stuff, which is perhaps the most quoted of anyone in the movie–“Bueller, Bueller?” and “Anyone?” strikes home. I, too, have gone on ad nauseum about something I consider interesting only to have blank stares come back at me (it is too bad that Ben Stein is so horrible now). The editing and use of the frame is also brilliant. When Bueller’s mother (Cindy Pickett) is in the police station, and in the background Grey is making out with Charlie Sheen, is classic comedy, as is the double-take that Richard Edson, as the garage attendant, makes when Broderick asks him if he speaks English, and Jonathan Schmock as the officious maitre ‘d.
One has to consider this as a fantasy, though, as otherwise it doesn’t make sense. The timing is all off. If we consider the film starts at seven o’clock, when many high school kids wake up, it goes fine. They have a 12 o’clock lunch at the French restaurant (where Broderick impersonates Abe Froman, the sausage king of Chicago) and then are at a Cub’s game, which probably started at one. Then it all goes to hell. If we suppose they stayed for the whole game, which would have been at least three hours, they would have been hard pressed to visit the Art Institute of Chicago and participate in a parade. That means (horrors) they must have left the game early.
Also, school ends for most students between two and three. Why Rooney would still be stalking him hours after school had ended makes no sense (I guess you can chalk it up to Rooney being insane), and why there is still a school bus riding around at six o’clock is problematic. Another problem is that there would be no way the police would take lightly a girl calling in about an intruder, and pulling her in for making a prank call, especially when a man’s wallet was prominently lying on the kitchen floor.
So think of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as a live-action cartoon, defying the laws of time and space, and enjoy the spirit of life it gives off, when indeed,”Life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!”