Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) has already missed eight days of school this year, so what’s one more? He feigns an illness that easily deceives his parents (but not his sister), so he’s left home to his own devices. He soon ropes in his finicky friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) and organizes the high school equivalent of a jailbreak to free his girlfriend (Mia Sara). The trio then bomb around Chicago, all the while eluding and frustrating the school’s dean of students, Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones).
At this point, do I even have to tell you that this John Hughes effort is an easily-relatable work? I’m not convinced Hughes ever really grew up, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is prime evidence for that argument. It takes the simplest kernel of truth (who doesn’t want a day off from school/work?) and warms it up into an almost unreal adventure. In many ways, the film plays like a bizarre teenage fantasy--the stuff that happens is certainly unbelievable, and there are a few conceits (computer hacking, elaborate tape recording systems) that conveniently allow the kids to dodge any sort of trouble. However, its unabashed empathy with its teenage characters is what makes it work so well; we find humor in little things like a classroom of students being turned into vacuous zombies by their teachers’ monotonous lectures. It’s no wonder Ferris has played hooky so much.
Ferris himself is also the pivotal cog in the machine; he’s a confident, smooth wheeler and dealer whose personality is infectious, even for the audience, who is drawn in by his fourth-wall breaking shenanigans. His personality is so magnetic that he soon has a “Save Ferris” cause dedicated to him because the whole town believe he’s in need of a kidney transplant. At one point, he manages to inspire a whole city block to sing and dance along to “Twist and Shout.” He doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned that this will give him away because he constantly thumbs his nose at authority, particularly Rooney. The dean goes at great lengths to bust Ferris, but he only ends up being frustrated at every turn. He’s turned into a buffoon, much to the delight of young audiences; he’s not a school principal, but he might as well be. Rooney is the sort of douchey, by-the-numbers, wannabe hard-ass that’s typical of so many authority figures, so it’s pretty funny when he’s constantly foiled. Is this a cartoonish portrayal? You bet, but I dare you not to find some authenticity in it.
Besides his sister Jeanie, the only person who seems to be able to resist Ferris’s charms is jos best friend, who is “so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks, you’d have a diamond.” Ferris might be the title character, but the actual story is Cameron’s because he’s the one that has a lot to learn. Hughes sticks to his guns so firmly that he never makes Ferris vulnerable; he has to be the steady hand guiding Cameron through his storm of insecurities and nervousness. The film’s more serious issues are funneled through Cameron’s conflict with his father as well; it seems like sort of a heavy touch considering the film’s overall lightness, but it all connects quite well. In the end, Ferris isn’t the one that needs the day off (after all, he’s had plenty).
It’d be so trite and reductive to say that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is just a story about friendship, which is sort of is. But it’s more than that too--on some level, it’s about understanding. As with many teen movies, they all figure out that they’re in this thing together. Ferris is sort of a prophet figure looking to take his people to the promised land, which superficially includes the Sears Tower and Wrigley Field; however, his ultimate destination is a place where everyone can be as comfortable in their skin as he is in his own. The bumbling, incompetent adult figures are similarly a superficial threat. The real enemy is what drives them--that creeping adulthood, the monotony of a life that drones on more dryly than Ben Stein’s voice. Above all, it seems like Rooney wants to get Ferris simply because he's having all the fun that he can't have himself. Another sage shows up in the form of Charlie Sheen; in this oddly resonant cameo, he appears as a drug addict with basically the same message: cut loose and don’t let things piss you off so much. Among other things, it seems as though Hughes himself was a prophet. (Brett G.)
Tale of the Tape: