CHRIS: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Hughes, US, 1986)

“The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.”
– Grace, the school secretary

OS Poster Scans 09/16/08

John Hughes is a post-New Hope auteur who created a new strain of Teen Movie for the multiplex generation. Why do I think FERRIS BUELLER… deserves a place on the list above his other films? THE BREAKFAST CLUB is more important as it launched the careers of many of the so-called brat pack. HOME ALONE, that he wrote, was more commercially successful. PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES is funnier.

But, FERRIS… is wise.

It has a wisdom that transcends the ‘teen flick’ with all of its usual angst ridden conventions. They are all about the struggle to get noticed in a world that doesn’t care and the consuming need to find a partner. It’s about more than that, it’s a manifesto for a way of life. Ferris is a righteous dude.

It is a simple story with a flimsy central motivation. Ferris is a well-heeled high-school kid who has a bedroom kitted out with state-of-the-art gear and loving parents who are working hard to meet his every desire. However, he has a significant lacking in his life, he doesn’t have a car, so he needs to ‘bum’ lifts from friends. To satisfy his need for wheels, he plots a day off from school to spend it driving in a Ferrari belonging to his friend’s dad. I know. It’s terrible isn’t it? It’s one of those ethical dilemmas that is only matched by De Sica’s Antonio Ricci stealing a bike so he can get work to feed his child. But, of course, Ferris is not really interested in European socialism:

“I’m not European. I don’t plan on being European. So who gives a crap if they’re socialists? They could be fascist anarchists, it still doesn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car.”

Being both European and a socialist, I should find Ferris annoying, with his first world problems and arrogance, but Hughes gets away with it. Mainly because Matthew Broderick is so charming and charismatic. From the opening moments when he takes the audience into his confidence and he describes how to avoid school, you are willing to come along on the ride. Some of my favourite moments are those where he turns up the charm and pulls off audacious flim-flams. He manages to get his girlfriend out of school thanks to an elaborate hoax, and have dinner at an exclusive restaurant due to his quick wits and confidence trickery.

Broderick is so good that it is possible to overlook the contribution of some of the other characters to its success. Jeffery Jones is great as the Principle driven crazy by his suspicions about Bueller. Jennifer Grey has the ultimate bitchy-resting-face as Ferris’s sister who is horrified to see the school beguiled into a ‘Save Ferris’ campaign when rumours of his impending kidney transplant take hold. Alan Ruck as Cameron has a troubled expression that’s a great foil to Broderick’s sure-footed bravado and he looks like a piece of coal is actually up his arse, slowly turning to a diamond. He’s never certain that he should go along. He’s got a bad cold, Ferris treats him badly, and it’s HIS dad’s car:

Cameron: “My father spent three years restoring this car. It is his love, it is his passion.”

Ferris: “It is his fault he didn’t lock the garage.”

The tension between the free-wheeling Ferris and the up-tight Cameron is the eternal battle between the id and the ego, the libertine verses the prig, the film therefore tackles the ultimate question of modernity: how is it possible to be free in a society that demands order through the regime of school, work and the sense of duty towards parents. Ferris triumphs because he is willing to step outside of the hurley burley and find pleasure:

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

There’s a timelessness to his message. It’s a middle-aged man speaking through a teenager. Every time I see the film, it makes me feel great, because its about the struggle for independence and the need to be free (at least once in a while). Ferris’ wisdom is the reason it belongs within the post-Star Wars canon.

This previously appeared as part of Cinema Parrot Disco’s John Hughes Blogathon.

6 responses to “CHRIS: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Hughes, US, 1986)

  1. Pingback: Dirk’s Five: Bueller? Bueller? Anybody? Anybody? | The Dirk Malcolm Alternative·

  2. Hmm. Have been wondering what to say about this one. It’s very apt that you post this straight after I write about Mike Leigh, who you have problems with, because I really don’t get John Hughes.

    This isn’t his worst film (“John Hughes never made a film worse than ‘The Breakfast Club’ because no one ever made a film worse than ‘The Breakfast Club'”) but I still can’t stand it. Ferris Bueller is a spoilt sociopath in need of a good kicking. The teenagers are cliches and the adults aren’t even developed enough as characters to be called cliches. No teenagers ever spoke like this, it’s “a middle-aged librarian’s fantasy of youthful rebellion”.

    The only Hughes film I really like is ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’, which contains well-written and complex characters. From this I conclude that John Hughes should’ve stayed away from teen movies.

    ~~ Dirk Malcolm’s Controversial Opinions 4U ~~

    • I was hoping that you’d respond to this one as I was aware of your antipathy towards Hughes and THE BREAKFAST CLUB in particular. I don’t actually disagree with anything you’ve said. I agree that it’s the opinions of a middle-aged man spouted through the mouth of a ‘teenager’ – but what’s wrong with that?

      If Ferris is a socio-path then he is one in the mould of Russell Brand, one that steps outside of the real world and mocks it with his spoilt flamboyance. In many ways Ferris is the logical conclusion of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. If consumer culture defined the ‘teenager’ with its desire for self-actualisation then Ferris is the grandfather of James Dean’s Jim Stark: the rebels have become accountants.

      One of the reasons I went for this is it’s place in my heart … My nostalgia for it … My nostalgia doesn’t stretch to WEIRD SCIENCE or much of his other output (other than PLANES …). I planned to watch his back catalogue and couldn’t get through PRETTY IN PINK (my 46 year old self was unable to have the same crush on Ringwald as my 17 year old self, at risk of a Yew Tree sting).

      Let’s settle this with a fight – Molly Ringwald vrs Alison Stedman.

      • > I agree that it’s the opinions of a middle-aged man spouted through the mouth of a ‘teenager’ – but what’s wrong with that?

        I suppose it just depends on whether you think it makes for intensely irritating teenagers or not. I mean, if he was making American Pie or Twilight I could put up with it, but Hughes’ teen films are held up as some kind of watershed moment where for the first time someone took teens and their problems seriously. That just mystifies me, because these are not teenagers. Hughes gets that adolescence is difficult, but his teenagers have problems because they’re basically just awful people, not because they’re going through the upheaval of puberty. When I look at Ferris Bueller or most of the characters in The Breakfast Club I can imagine them being *even worse* in ten years’ time, not sitting back laughing about what a pain in the arse they used to be.

        But I’m more of an Ally Sheedy man, which might explain a lot.

  3. Pingback: CHRIS: Pump Up The Volume (Moyle, US, Canada, 1990) | The Dirk Malcolm Alternative·

  4. Pingback: Dirk’s Five: Extreme Camping | The Dirk Malcolm Alternative·

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