As you may be aware, today is Ferris Bueller Day, the celebration of the day, some 27 years ago, that the fictional Chicago teen of Ferris Bueller's Day Off cut school and went out on the town. In that spirit, let's discuss the movie. Is it an essential classic or not?
Jen Doll: In 1986, this movie came out that sort of defined me. Along with The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles, this high-school based flick reminded me that despite all the drudgery of getting up at 7 a.m. and heading off to the drab hallways of my small-town school, day after day after day; sitting in math class, learning the periodic tables, writing essays in English, saying "here" when our names were called, we kids had special, latent powers, too. We were smarter, and faster, and more quick-witted than our curmudgeonly elders. And that meant we could put one over on the boring old stupid adults if and when we wanted or needed to.
High school—or in my case when this movie was popular, middle school—was a drag, man, but there was fun to be had there, and outside of it, in any case. Maybe we couldn't all be as witty or funny or mischievous or free-spirited as Ferris—nor as wonderfully melancholic as Cameron, who may have singlehandedly spawned a new form of hipster ennui—but we could at least fake being sick on a warm early summer day, if we wanted to. We could at least ride around in our cars, borrowed from our parents—even if they were just Chrysler New Yorkers instead convertible 1961 Ferrari 250 GTs. And we could, in rare cases, escape, our best friends in tow, from all of the drudgery and think about and plan for what the next phase in our life would bring, because we were all on the verge of something bigger, something new, whether we lived in the suburbs of Chicago or somewhere else entirely. Wherever, whoever we were: There were adventures to be had.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off, then, captured a perfect, fleeting moment; it was the modern coming-of-age tale at the time, spun by the deft hands of John Hughes. But its strongest message and the one that still resonates is Carpe Diem. That's why I watched it over and over, more times than I can count. It spoke to those of us of a certain age, on the precipice of formalized adulthood, wanting to take advantage of the fun we could have, while we still could. This was before Matthew Broderick got old and a bit puffy and became a khaki-pants-wearing father; before Mia Sara did whatever Mia Sara ended up doing (CSI, for example), before Jennifer Grey got that nose job; before Alan Ruck was playing not a rebellious, if slightly unwilling, kid but a freaking dean; before Charlie Sheen—well, actually, this role for Charlie Sheen was pretty apropos still today. Yes, parts were slapstick and over-the-top; yes, the scenes with Principal Ed Rooney devolved into pretty much utter nonsense by the end. The fact is, the first thing I still think when I hear the first few bars of "Danke Schoen" are of the parade scene in this movie, and, following that, of the charmed ability of Ferris to live the way he wanted to for that single day. So what if the movie is 26 years old. If we could all harness the power of Ferris as adults, we'd be a little bit happier, a little more free. Everybody needs a day off, now and then.
Richard Lawson: Jen, I agree with you that everyone needs a day off, maybe even more than now and then. And I suppose as an avid cutter of school in my high school years, I should really relate to and embrace Ferris Bueller's Day Off. And yet... And yet I've never felt myself that enthralled by it. There's something about it that rings a bit false, in an era when a bunch of teen movies were saying truer things.
Does anyone really know a kid like Ferris? I know lots of people say they do, but compared to other John Hughes creations — Anthony Michael Hall's squirming, angry nerd in The Breakfast Club, Molly Ringwald's shy girl next door in Sixteen Candles — Ferris is such a cartoony, fantasy creation. Sure he's a lot of fun (though he's a little snarky and not-that-nice), but he's such a jumble of id that it's hard to relate to him. And teen movies are about relating, aren't they? At least when you're a teen? For that reason I think the movie never quite clicked with me the way it does for some.
I think my favorite character in the movie is Ferris' sister. She's the only one who sees him for being the snide little brat he is, and I respect that about her. Of course I've never rooted for Ferris to get caught, that would be a bummer of a movie, but I get where she's coming from. I can also understand Cameron's position, me being a worrier and something of a scaredy cat. (Though, again, I did run up quite an impressive tally of absences in my salad days.) I guess I'm the kind of person who identifies with the characters who think that what Ferris is doing is crazy and/or annoying. Does that make me a downer? Or a realist? Maybe a little bit of both. Maybe I'm just not hardwired to enjoy something like Ferris Bueller as much as I do the decidedly more wistful, downbeat Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club. Those movies both have happy endings and contain plenty of silliness throughout (Long Duk Dong being one painful example) but they're also sorta serious and more believable. Maybe Ferris is for the more whimsically minded. Me, I've never much cared for whimsy.
That said, what Ferris does better than most of Hughes' many Chicagoland movies, is show off the city. Chicago looks so airy and bright in Ferris, imbued with that kind of afternoon possibility that comes only during a certain kind of spring. The Sears Tower (still called that at the time, obvs) is gleaming and beautiful, Michigan Avenue lively and vibrant, and the lake pure and blue and bright. This is Hughes' most aesthetically pleasing — it's happy! — film, so yes, maybe that adds to some people's reverence for the movie. Maybe the trick for me is to view Ferris as part of a triptych or trilogy with Candles and Breakfast, with Breakfast as the drama, Candles as the romance, and Ferris as the adventure. In that light I can appreciate its over-the-top dynamics more so than I can if it's a standalone film.
Anyway, I'm being a grump. This is Ferris Bueller's Day Off Day, after all, and we should be enjoying it rather than nitpicking. Again, as a devoted school cutter, I hope a bunch of folks are playing hookey today. But don't do it for Ferris. Do it for yourself.