FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, 1986
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jeffrey Jones, Jennifer Grey, Lyman Ward, Cindy Pickett, Charlie Sheen.
High school senior Ferris Bueller decides to skip school, taking his girlfriend and best friend on a trip around Chicago.
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By the mid eighties, Hughes was already an auteur of the teen genre. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, we expect to be in Brat Pack territory, with a storyline involving winning the high school prom queen/king or gaining popularity. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), for one, has evidently already achieved these things and on paper, his character would be difficult to place under Hughes’ set of then-established teen archetypes. He is neither the geek nor the jock nor the rebel and unlike Hughes other films, we have few scenes in a high school - focusing instead on the wider adult world of the city. What is established, however, about Ferris is that he is well-regarded at school– take the ‘Save Ferris’ campaign as an example. His sister (Jennifer Grey) even announces during the film, “Why should everything work out for him? What makes him so goddamn special?”
Thankfully, we understand her brother’s appeal, with Ferris regularly sharing his thoughts/ethos with the audience in a fourth-wall breaking narrative. Unlike other teen heroes, he barely slows down on his reflexive mentality and crucially, never comes across as smarmy or arrogant. As he tersely informs his audience at one point, “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”. In which case, with these didactic musings, it is hard not to admire his carpe diem attitude.
From the start, Ferris is instantly likeable - though his ‘plan’ to bunk off school is rather slim and unpolished. Borrowing his friend’s father’s precious Ferrari is a daring feat but one can only assume that Ferris is making it up as he goes along. Naturally, this isn’t the first time he has ditched school, as we are enlightened by the School’s Dean (Jeffrey Jones) and his discovery of Bueller being absent “nine times this semester.” For Bueller, his pivotal strength rests in his persuasive talents and spontaneity, taking action without worry or pre-meditation; like singing ‘twist and shout’ during a parade or talking his way into an upper-class restaurant. He is a teenager that exudes the sort of confidence and maturity that none of his fellow peers or adults seem to possess or display.
With his girlfriend (Mia Sara) and best friend, Cameron - played by a timid Alan Ruck - the trio make the most of their free weekday in Chicago; be it visiting the museum, going to a baseball game or becoming a part of the Von Steuban Day Parade. On occasion, the adults such as Ferris’s father come within inches of exposing the students’ truancy. One memorable scene involves Jones looking away from a TV baseball game, just as a gleeful Ferris appears on the screen. It is this frequent use of suspended disbelief and creativity in the majority of its scenes that makes the comedy so successful. The film’s final sequence of Bueller racing home is another example – showing perhaps the only moment where Ferris, having made so many narrow escapes throughout the film, looks a little uncomfortable; although Hughes still takes the opportunity to incorporate some short, well-worked moments en-route to the house (Ferris takes a moment to chat up two bikini-clad girls after darting through their garden).
Without saying, the film is dominated by the outstanding Broderick; creating the seminal and eponymous protagonist. With his reluctance to attend school, one may be forgiven to think that he may decide to not even graduate or go on to higher education. Just like the similarly affluent Joel Goodson (Tom Cruise) in Risky Business, Ferris is a teenager that wants to
Not forgetting the excellent supporting characters: Jeffrey Jones (flexing more humour than Paul Gleason’s similar Principal Vernon) as Ferris’s nemesis Mr Rooney provides many of the film’s laugh out loud moments. Jennifer Grey and Alan Ruck are also superb as Broderick’s jealous sister and anxious friend, with Ruck countering the nonchalance of Bueller to provide a voice of earnest sensibility. Charlie Sheen also has an early stab at comedy, with his memorable cameo as a drug dealer in a police station while Mia Sara brings warmth as Broderick’s loyal and caring girlfriend.
Of course, all the trademark ingredients of a John Hughes movie are present: the scene-stealing sidekick, the musical cues, the classroom setting (if a little brief) and his favourite fictional town, Shermer, Illinois. Though many will consider The Breakfast Club as his most accomplished work, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off endures as a prime example of Hughes’ mastery of teen drama/comedy and the perennial charm of his writing; creating an amazing snapshot of the 1980’s zeitgeist. Essential.