American high schools were fertile ground for John Hughes as a writer and director. They provided the setting for the classic The Breakfast Club (1985), which featured five typical characters from that world, and the following year Hughes struck gold again with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. That movie featured a character who is in a way the king of a Chicago high school and who is so confident he skilfully skips school with his best friend and girlfriend by his side. Ferris is a bit like James Bond for high school: girls want him and boys want to be him.
For many people this was a movie that defined their generation, especially if they saw it while still in high school. However since it came out the year I was born that was impossible for me. It’s a shame, because the high school movie that was the big hit during my formative years was American Pie (1999). Generation X people got to see Matthew Broderick sing Twist and Shout at a parade, while Millenials got to see Jason Biggs stuffing his crotch into a pie. No offence to Mr. Biggs, but when I saw Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on TV it became pretty clear to me which group had the best high school movies.
Hughes gave his main character a bit of a Shakespearean touch by having Ferris directly address the audience as he explains his plan to ditch school on a beautiful sunny day. Why waste time indoors listening to a boring teacher while he could be outside enjoying what the city has to offer? Ferris’ plans and attitude would be horrifying to any teacher, but in his defence his economics teacher (Ben Stein) is so boring the students who are in the classroom can barely stay awake. The way Stein drones Ferris’ name while calling attendance is so perfectly boring it has become his signature line: “Buller…Buller…Buller.”
You do have to give it to Ferris; he has given this particular day off a lot of thought. His first step is to fake an illness for his adoring parents (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett), who do not suspect a thing. Next he fabricates an excuse to get his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) out of school and convinces his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) to provide transportation for the day by borrowing his father’s prized Ferrari. To cover his bases, Ferris even hacks the school records to reduce his number of absences.
Two people are not fooled by Ferris’ plans and decide to give chase like the Will E. Coyote going after the Road Runner. First there is Dean of Students Edward R. Rooney who has made catching Ferris once and for all his priority. Then there is Ferris’ own sister Jeannie (Jennifer Grey) who is not as easily fooled by her brother’s charm and is sick of him getting away with everything he wants. Unfortunately for the both of them, Ferris is a slippery quarry as he travels from Wrigley Field to a street parade and to the Arts Institute of Chicago. Well, at least Ferris and his friends are broadening their minds.
There is also a lot of introspection for these characters throughout this one-day as they ponder over their future. Ferris and Sloane are happy together, but they have to wonder if they will remain that way after high school. Meanwhile Cameron cannot live in the moment because he is always worrying about his father’s precious car and what will happen to him should it get so much as a scratch, leading to a nervous breakdown. Jeannie gets some life lessons of her own from, of all people, a truant played by Charlie Sheen who tells her she should spend less time worrying about her brother and focus on herself instead.
For a movie about a guy ditching school, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has a surprisingly enduring legacy. It has served as a launching pad many of the actors’ careers, was quoted by former First Lady Barbara Bush, and its post-credit scene was recreated by Ryan Reynolds in last year’s Deadpool. The key to the film’s success, I believe, is that Ferris is not some slacker who simply doesn’t want to work, but a free spirit who wants to live life to the fullest. Or in his own words: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.”