Firstly, why Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Why not, Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, The Terminator, Ghostbusters, or Die Hard?
The 80s was such a significant decade for film. Pushing the boundaries of modern filmmaking left a lasting legacy on how we consume, analyse, and reference film in the present day. For example the majority of readers would have little, to no difficulty dropping a quote from the above films into everyday conversation, these films have become a part of pop culture vocabulary and as such are often considered ‘classics’, subverting the norm.
Yet, the 80s teen movie is very much a product of its era and while other 80s films ooze 80s pastiche, Ferris Bueller celebrates it. That’s not to say The Terminator or Blade Runner, for example, don’t offer anything by means of social commentary, at the end of the day every single film is a product of its era in one way or another. But, the teen movie found a firm footing in its unequivocal relatability to its audience: young, rebellious teenagers looking for an outlet to express themselves, subvert authority, articulate very real teenage problems without condescension.
Like a larger than life Banksy, diluted NWA lyrics, a living, breathing pamphlet on teenage disillusionment.
The longevity of the teen movie owes a great deal to the attitudes of the sub-genre’s pioneers. Cameron Crowe (Say Anything…), Michael Lehmann (Heathers), Bob Clark (Porky’s), and of course John Hughes, director of Ferris Bueller.
In 1986 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off just so happened to coincide with Hughes’ peak. Following the success of The Breakfast Club and precursor to the John Candy era of Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Uncle Buck, Ferris Bueller very much represents a crossroads in Hughes’ 80s canon. Suitably this mirrors Bueller’s motivation behind his ninth sick day of the semester. Aware he’ll struggle to get away with more sick days before summer Bueller plans to make the most of his last hurrah before moving into the adult world of responsibility.
It’s no accident that Hughes slots in ten seconds of MTV before Bueller’s opening monologue. It’s just one of many slight nods that makes Ferris Bueller’s Day Off all the more iconic. It revels in its surroundings, embraces stereotypes and challenges them all in the same breath.
The way John Hughes smartly disguises very real teenage problems within what is essentially an anti-authoritarian teenage joyride is brilliant. Ferris’ battle with looming adulthood, college, even marriage is handled superbly. Adults are taken for fools and sibling rivalry triumphs in the face of educational persecution.
None more so are the adults mocked than at the very beginning. Lying in bed with faux sweaty palms is our teenage anti-hero Ferris Bueller, played by Matthew Broderick. His parents bought his little ruse and on the back of an iconic monologue prepares himself for sick day nine of the semester. It’s hard to put my adoration of Ferris Bueller into words but if ever there was a one song that successfully sums up his contagious moxie it would be ‘Oh Yeah’ by Yello.
Oh yeeeaah! I mean seriously, listen to that and tell me you can’t hear the 80s. In the same way that this song is identifiable with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and 80s teen movies in general, Ferris was such an identifiable character to teenagers at the time. Living out the fantasies of truants, rebels, and snooty school presidents of every school in America.
Joined by his girlfriend Sloane Peterson and his best friend Cameron Frye, Ferris and his troupe of rebellious cohorts break every rule in the proverbial rulebook, leaving the Dean of Students, Ed Rooney to futilely chase everything adolescence stands for, a freedom he once had and now stands to persecute.
From imitating a grieving father, faking a family death, ‘borrowing’ Cameron’s father’s prized 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder, commandeering a parade float to belt out The Beatles’ ‘Twist and Shout’, to skipping school Ferris doe sit all. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may have simmering undertones of real teenage problems but like its protagonist it lives for the little moments that make it stand out. The inclusion of the Star Wars theme as two low-level crooks take the Ferrari for a spin is inspired. But Ferris Bueller wouldn’t be complete without his sassy sister, Jeanie.
Often overlooked in favour of the rapscallion three of Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane, Jeanie has an impotant role to play. Played by Jennifer Grey one year before starring in Emile Ardolino’s 80s classic Dirty Dancing her portrayal of the sassy, overlooked sibling often comes across as petty, espcially during her scene with Charlie Sheen who cameos as a drug addict (oh the irony).
But she’s really just playing the ‘cynical teen with no agenda’ role to perfection, catching her brother is her only real goal in the film and anybody that says “Save Ferris” receives the righteous fury of her frustration. Throw in her super rad wardrobe and Jeanie is very much more than just a supporting character, she symbolises everything Ferris has managed to escape from and she hates that he gets away with it.
Jeanie is great, but Cameron and Sloane really make Ferris Bueller’s Day Off more than just a teenage joyride. Mia Sara is an absolute fox, man I’d give anything to be Ferris for the day, in 1986 of course. As for Cameron, well there’s always one thing I look out for during each viewing of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and that’s evidence to support the cool fan theory that Ferris is in fact Cameron’s alter ego. I mean, I could waffle on for hours but I’ll try and come up with a more concise exploration of this theory for the future.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is my ultimate 80s movie, a true Classic for Ferris’ irreproachable attitude to life, Cameron’s coming-of-age, Sloane’s perfection, Jeanie’s brooding sass, Jeffrey Jones’ Ed Rooney, Dean of Students, who deserves an article all by himself, and for the soundtrack which oozes 80s chic and compounds Ferris Bueller’s relentless rewatchability. Stay in school kids.
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~ “It’s over, go home” ~