Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. — Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
While I was rewatching the 1986 John Hughes comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for this review, I found myself thinking about all of the days (or, to be more precise about it, half-days) that I took off back when I was in high school. It wasn’t that I didn’t like school. Though I certainly didn’t truly appreciate it at the time, I actually had a pretty good time in high school. I had an interesting and diverse group of friends. I had lots of drama and lots of comedy. I got good grades as long as it wasn’t a Math class. (Drama, History, and English were always my best subjects.) My teachers liked me. But, at the same time, I couldn’t help but resent being required to go to school. I do not like being told that I have to do something.
So, I would skip on occasion. For some reason, it always seemed like my favorite classes were early in the day. So, I’d go to school, enjoy myself up until lunch, and then me and a few friends would casually walk out of the building and we would be free! There was a Target just a few blocks down the street from our high school and sometimes we’d go down there and spend a few hours shoplifting makeup. Eventually, we did get caught by a big scary security guy who threatened to call our parents, made us return everything that we had hidden in our purses and bras, and then told us that we were never to step foot in that Target ever again. And you know what? In all the years since, I have yet to step back inside of that Target.
Interestingly enough, with all of the times that we skipped school, the worst thing that ever happened to me or any of my friends is that we got banned from Target. We all still graduated, most of us still went to college, and, as far as I know, none of us have ever been arrested for a major crime. None of us ever regretted missing any of the classes that we skipped. For all the talk of how skipping school was the same thing as throwing away your future, it really was not that big of a deal.
I think that’s one reason why, despite being nearly 30 years ago, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a film that continues to speak to audiences. It’s a film that celebrates the fact that sometimes, you just have to take a day off and embrace life. Technically, Ferris, Cameron (Alan Ruck), and Sloane (Mia Sara) may be breaking the law by skipping school and you could even argue that they’ve stolen Cameron’s dad’s car.
But, who cares?
You know who probably had perfect attendance in high school? Principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) and seriously, who wants to grow up to be like that douchebag?
Whenever I do watch Ferris Bueller (and I’ve seen it more times than I can remember because seriously, I freaking love this movie!), I always find myself wishing that real-life could be as much fun as the movies. As much as I may have enjoyed skipping school and shoplifting, it’s nothing compared to everything that Ferris does during his day off! Ferris goes to a baseball game! He takes his friends to a fancy restaurant! He goes to an art museum! (And, much like Sloane, my heart swoons at this point because I would have loved to have known a guy who would skip school so he could specifically go to the museum.) Perhaps most importantly, he encourages his best friend Cameron to actually have a good time and enjoy himself.
In Susannah Gora’s book You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried, an entire chapter is devoted to the making of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and, to be honest, it’s actually makes for rather melancholy reading. Ferris Bueller was the last teen film that John Hughes directed and the book suggests that a lot of this was due to the fact that Hughes didn’t have as good a time making the film as audiences would later have watching it. In the book, Mia Sara speculates that Hughes never bonded with the cast of Ferris Bueller in the same way that he did with the casts of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.
And indeed, it’s hard to imagine either Ferris Bueller or Matthew Broderick popping up in either one of those two films. Ferris is far too confident to relate to the angst-driven worlds of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, or Pretty in Pink. True, he doesn’t have a car and his sister (Jennifer Grey) resents him but otherwise, Ferris’s life is pretty much care-free. Not only does he live in a beautiful house but he’s also already come up with a definitive philosophy for how he wants to live his life. You look at Ferris and you know that he probably grew up to be one of those people who ended up working on Wall Street and nearly bankrupted the country but you don’t care. He’s too likable.
His best friend, Cameron, is far more angsty but even his overwhelming depression doesn’t seem like it would be at home in any of Hughes’s other films. If Cameron was a member of the Breakfast Club, he’d probably just sit in the back of the library and zone out. Regardless of how much Judd Nelson taunted him, Cameron would stay in his shell. If Cameron was in Sixteen Candles, it’s doubtful he would have been invited to the party at Jake Ryan’s house in the first place. His depression is too overwhelming and his angst feels too real for him to safely appear in any film other than this one. As a character, Cameron could only appear in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off because only Ferris Bueller would be capable getting Cameron to leave his bedroom. On the one hand, the film may seem like a well-made but standard teen comedy where a lovable rebel defeats a hateful authority figure. But, with repeat viewings, it becomes obvious that Ferris Bueller is truly about the battle for Cameron’s damaged soul.
There’s a prominent theory out there that the entire film is supposed to be Cameron’s daydream and that Ferris either doesn’t exist or he’s just a popular student who Cameron has fantasized to be his best friend. I can understand the theory because Cameron really is the heart of the movie. At the same time, I hope it’s not true because, if this is all a fantasy, then that means that Sloane never said, “He’s going to marry me,” while running back home. And that would be heart-breaking because I love that moment!
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may have John Hughes final teen film as a director (he would go on to write and produce Some Kind of Wonderful) but at least he went out on a true high note.