Posted on 07 February 2011
Source Paramount DVD
Categories Blind Spots
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Having spent my teenage years in the New York City suburbs, observing from afar the hijinks of those blessed enough to be born within the five boroughs, I watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and think fondly of the past. Or, at least, the highlights thereof. This film makes me forget the shitty boyfriends and the Catholic school small-mindedness that marked my youth. Instead I go into a happy, hazy fog, much like Newland Archer remembering Ellen Olenska’s dress the first time he saw her at the Academy of Music. I reflect, fondly, upon the occasions when my friends and I would bunk off work at the local library to see Shakespeare in the Park, or skip school to buy fake ID’s in a 42nd Street S+M shop. The message of Ferris Bueller – you can do this if you try, so stop whining! – spoke directly to us, those lucky, crazy young folk growing up within a commuter rail journey of a major metropolis.
But Ferris Bueller would just be disposable fun if the film only concerned itself with travel-as-rebellion. Sure, Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane have a good time, but the subtext beneath their enjoyment of the Art Institute, the city driving, the karaoke, is not that they’re escaping suburbia. It’s that they’re pretending to be adults.
“He’s going to marry me,” says Sloane at the end of the film, as she and Ferris part ways after their day of adventure, and prepare to say goodbye for college—perhaps forever. But, in John Hughes’ carefully constructed world of pretend, this prospect doesn’t sound scary or claustrophobia-inducing. It simply introduces the notion of saying something so adult out loud and surviving the experience. It’s moments like these that make Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so wonderfully enduring. It’s about exploring the adult world – in this film, played by the city of Chicago, looking very glamorous indeed – and doing it without fear. It doesn’t hurt that it’s, in places, hilariously funny. Just keep your eyes on Jeanie, Ferris’ sister. You can’t go wrong with her.
So make yourself a Chicago dog (or tofu pup, as you prefer), and cruise back to a more innocent time, courtesy of John Hughes and his most insouciant creation, the boy with the name of a Depression-era corn farmer. The one, the only, Ferris Bueller.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was everywhere when I was growing up. Everywhere, that is, but on my TV. I was too young to catch it in theaters, but between VHS, cable television, and the oft repeated monotone chant of “Bueller, Bueller,” the movie achieved a ubiquity that was unavoidable. Yet somehow I managed to avoid it for over two decades. How? I’m not sure. Why? I’m even less sure. Plenty of other John Hughes movies were staples at sleepovers and other gatherings, and I rented other Matthew Broderick movies to watch (including Election more than once).
After much thought, there are only three legitimate reasons I can figure out for not having seen it sooner, two of which are pretty easy to shoot down. First: all my friends who owned it had seen it so many times they didn’t necessarily want to rewatch it. This is questionable because of the fact that we rewatched Halloween multiple times. Second: all my friends just assumed I had seen it as often as them and therefore felt no need to show it to me. However plausible, that hasn’t stopped friends from suggesting watching movies that they think I’ve already seen. Third – and this is the most likely explanation – I just figured it was probably pretty funny, and that eventually watching it would be unavoidable.
Well, that time has come. And, yes, it’s a funny movie. Just like I thought.
Do I feel like I missed out on anything for all these years? Does knowing the full context of the “Bueller, Bueller” quote, or having seen the full, two-song parade dance sequence, or why all my classmates were flicking their taut cheeks to make that dripping noise, bring me any closer to contemporary culture?
Not really, because so many of the film’s pleasures come straight from those high school fantasies that we all have. Playing sick to convince mom and dad to let you stay home—who hasn’t been there? Watching Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller) and Alan Ruck (the reluctant best friend) hatch an elaborate scheme to bust Mia Sara (Ferris’ girlfriend) out of school is the perfect practical joke on your high school principal. Speaking of which, Jeffrey Jones’ red haired, sniveling Ed Rooney is the high school principal incarnate. As vindictive and cunning as Ferris, he sinks to his level to try and trap him – the ultimate fear of any student cutting class – but, alas, there’s only one lord to this fantasy, and presiding over this paradise found is Ferris Bueller. Today, he gets his way, just like all of us would like to one day have.
Ferris and company fill their day with lounging by the pool, road trips to Chicago, a Cubs game, a fancy lunch, an art museum, a parade (which Ferris becomes the star attraction of – how? I’m not sure – by singing a rousing rendition of “Twist and Shout”)—the day is pretty endless. As my brother and I talked about afterward, when you’re in high school it feels like the day is endless, and that you could actually accomplish all those things and more before the school bell rings at the end of the day. In actuality, all of that couldn’t happen in the single afternoon the film presumably takes place. But that’s the beauty of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: it’s the slacker fantasy writ large and triumphant.
I once got the principal to give me a note to get out of Algebra class to go watch a 16mm print of Dr. Strangelove. Ferris’ day off may have been a lot cooler than what I did, but watching that movie made me remember how fucking cool I felt handing that note to my teacher, knowing I was getting official permission to go watch one of my favorite movies projected on a big screen. In my own small way, I was victorious, just like Ferris.
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure1985
The Breakfast Club1985
Monty Python and the Holy Grail1975
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off1986