*Photo: Contributed Photo
If you ask anyone who grew up in the 1980s about their favorite comedy, chances are good that it will be a John Hughes film. As a director and producer, Hughes has played a guiding role in some of the most lasting comedies in history, including The Breakfast Club (1985), Sixteen Candles (1984), and Home Alone (1990). However, the crown jewel of Hughes’s career is the 1986 gemFerris Bueller’s Day Off.
The titular Ferris Bueller is at once the most and least relatable character in American cinematic history. He’s a high school kid, toiling through high school just like we all have. Yet, unlike the rest of us, he breaks his chains, bravely choosing to do the unthinkable: just not going to school.
Sure, we all skipped days in high school, but Ferris transforms truancy into an artform. Rather than lazily munch Pringles in front of the TV like the rest of us, Ferris decides to get value out of his day off—value that he never gets from sitting in class (even an economics class taught by Ben Stein).
Ferris surely gets the most out of his day off. He “rescues” his girlfriend from school and takes her downtown in a vintage car, accompanied by his ever-worrying friend Cameron. He finagles his way into a fancy restaurant for lunch, tours a museum, goes to a baseball game, and steals the show at a parade. The ridiculousness of his antics adds a whimsical aspect to the film, but the youthful energy adds a hint of realism.
The true genius of Ferris Bueller is his willingness to reject easy monotony in favor of self-determined experience. He succinctly summarizes his mindset by saying: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” In this seemingly innocuous quote, Ferris demonstrates a wisdom beyond his years; he recognizes that his youth won’t last forever, and that he certainly won’t be making lasting memories in a classroom.
While Ferris knows this, his fellow characters do not. Cameron is the typical rule-follower, afraid to live within a few miles of the edge; Ferris’s sister, Jeannie, is convinced that Ferris has a charmed life and unfairly gets away with everything; and Mr. Rooney, the principal of Ferris’s school, is a disciplinarian, obsessed with catching Ferris in the act of having fun. Only Ferris’s girlfriend, Sloane, is on the same page as Ferris, but even she is amazed by Ferris’s extraordinary agency.
Don’t get me wrong; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a hilarious movie. The jokes are superb, with high degrees of both situational and visual humor. But the real source of the film’s greatness is Ferris Bueller himself. He may be a fictional character, but it’s hard to treat him as one. Rather, he is the kind of person we all would hope to be. He’s downright inspirational, a quality rarely found in a movie character, let alone a comedy character.
Ferris imparts his philosophy onto those who join him on his day off. The timid Cameron learns how to stand up for himself, the jealous Jeannie learns that she is responsible for making her own happiness, and the strict Mr. Rooney learns the dangers of getting too obsessed with someone else’s happiness.
At the end of the day off, we don’t need to “Save Ferris”; he’ll save us.
Wagner’s Watchworthiness: 10/10