“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it” – Ferris Bueller
This pseudo-philosophical quip that plastered the diaries and minds of every wannabe Ferris Bueller in the late 1980s speaks to the everlasting endearing quality of the film itself. A movie oozing with the spirit of teenage cheek and rebellion, charged by the optimistic zeitgeist of the ’80s, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off would define a generation of teenagers each pursuing the same style, swagger, and good looks of the titular character.
Quintessential filmmaker of the late 20th century, by Ferrus Bueller’s release in 1986, John Hughes had already created a foundation for his eventually impressive oeuvre of coming-of-age teen films, having made Sixteen Candles, Weird Science and the Breakfast Club in the years before. The latter of which is often recognised as the height of Hughes’ career, a film standing up for the average-Joe of everyday America. Though as the years part from its release, the problems of the five lead whippersnapper’s appear ever whinier. On the contrary, despite Ferris’ overt arrogance, it is an ode to Hughes’ writing that he doesn’t come across as a brat, more so he is someone we actively root for.
Wise beyond his years, Ferris Bueller, played by Matthew Broderick in a career-defining role, is an endlessly optimistic individual who chooses to take a day off school with his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara), and best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), simply because. Despite Cameron’s weak-willed efforts, they take his father’s red Ferrari out towards the Chicago city, where they use the landscape as their playground whilst evading the dogged persistence of their principal, convinced of the trio’s truancy.
Really, it’s a coming-of-age story where the main character doesn’t come of age; instead, Ferris recognises the significance of teenage life, defining the energy of youthful exuberance. “How could I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?” he says in his famous opening monologue, defying the stereotype of a modern, lazy teenager. It is his friend and accomplice, Cameron, that more appropriately embodies this stereotype of lying sick in his bed during the film’s opening, not unwell physically, but mentally with pots of pills lining his bedside table.
Whilst Ferris’ character arc progresses little across the course of his day off, Cameron goes through a whirlwind of emotions, fuelled by the subtly implied abuse from his father. It might be Ferris’ day off, but it’s undoubtedly Cameron’s film. In a sobering scene at the film’s conclusion, Cameron looks back at the day just gone and his current predicament with his father. In a fit of emotional rage, he says: “I gotta take a stand against him, I am not gonna sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life, I’m gonna take a stand”. It’s a monologue delivered with great aplomb from actor Alan Ruck, which overshadows the trivial nature of Ferris Bueller’s introductory speech with real dramatic weight.
Despite the titular character, this is a film about Cameron seen mainly from his friends’ perspective, “All I wanted to do was give him a good day,” Ferris utters during one of Cameron’s breakdowns whilst in the city. A guide and guru to his best friend, Ferris Bueller is far more than a stylish rascal, in fact, he has more adolescent wisdom than many of the supporting cast. This is a day off planned by Ferris in order to help his friend gain confidence and self-respect, and does it work? At the film’s conclusion, Cameron mutters: “It was the best day of my life”. It’s certainly the best film of John Hughes’ career.