This year marks the thirtieth year anniversary of John Hughes’ coming of age comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day off and as it transpires, most of us still seem to harbour that youthful rebellious rush of finding a way to skirt around the system.
The film about teenagers growing up is arguably even more popular than when it was born in 1986 as it reaches the not so young anymore age of three decades. On initial release many critics were concerned with Bueller and co’s cavalier, miscreant antics as a warped plug for Reaganite ideology; that of immediate gratification. Imagine if Oliver Twist, instead of asking for more, snatched the entire broth pot from the kitchen and downed it all in one. Bueller’s flippant disregard for America’s education system was apparently too much for some to handle. As the film tracks Bueller, his girlfriend Sloane and his best friend Frye cut class whilst evading the desperately disciplinary eyes of his sister, teacher and apparently American critics from the 80’s, John Hughes’ movie is rife with comedy, drama and most importantly, relatability.
The comedy more often than not flies faster than Frye’s dad’s 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder. Perhaps what makes Ferris a game changer for the coming of age genre is Matthew Broderick’s stellar performance as the titular schoolboy. Petulant, self-righteousness and brattishness are three characteristics that would fall towards the dislikable end of a personality spectrum, but Broderick’s execution shrugs them off with such nuanced charisma and likability that he could pull off the Caped Crusader’s whinging sidekick in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. Well, maybe he’s not that good; perhaps then a successful Ritchie Rich (sorry, Macauley Culkin.) At one point Bueller quotes the great John Lennon, “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.” His superstar-like magnetism is a sure winner for longevity with the audience, compounded with his frequently cheeky fourth wall breaks that even the face of subversive, Deadpool, parodies at the finale of his 2016 flick.
Other performances prove laudable. The chemistry between Broderick and Alan Ruck’s Frye is reminiscent of any childhood friendship, Ruck’s brilliant voice talents lending to a few moments of comedy genius. Jeffery Jones’ Dean Rooney hams it up in a hilariously slapstick and over the top performance as he pursues to discipline Ferris. Rooney though, like all the adults here, are basic caricatures who either bear the brunt of the kids’ antics or simply enable it with their incompetency. There’s an argument that they’re thinly written and were born from some Hollywood stereotype tick box activity.
When the development and three dimensionality of the kids is revealed towards the end of the film, Hughes’ execution is clumsy. Over the course of the day off, the director knits a social spider web that, whilst Ferris maybe savvy enough to negotiate, Hughes is not. I say ‘towards the end’ of the film because the film has several endings that drag it into the ‘just too long’ category. Whilst Peter Jackson’s epic conclusion to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy suffered an equally bloated finale, the spectacle and gravitas of its narrative was redeeming; the personal intimacy of Ferris proves not so forgiving. We’re given a few ham-fisted scenes where Bueller individually wraps up his relationship with everyone; Frye, Sloane, his sister and his parents; any screenwriting flare is seemingly smashed up worse than Frye’s dad’s car.
Yet the message these scenes pack, where the film diverts from regular teen indulgence/reckless Reaganism or whatever you want to call it, cement Ferris’ legacy firmly as a coming of age classic. Though the whimsical promise of Chicago, painted brilliantly in the fantastic bright colours of its warm summer’s day offers the allure of respite from the mundane greys of high school and captures life through the youthful eye, it’s really how the kids embrace themselves that echoes over the credits. As Frye learns to stop worrying and stick up for himself every so often, Bueller’s antics go unpunished and his actions are rewarded. ‘ Life moves pretty fast…’ he says, ‘if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’ Carpe diem, a timelessly attractive idea, prevails beyond the clumsy execution.
Perhaps that’s why the coming of age genre of today, from Judd Apatow’s Superbad to Jason Rietman’s Juno borrow heavily from it. We were all kids once and most of us felt the longing desire to cut class to see the bigger world out there before it swallowed us up. The youthful eye of Bueller is one many of us remember and its that nostalgia that makes the story irresistible. In response to concerns over that selfish Reaganism critics professed, Bueller spouts: ‘-Ism’s in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself.’ As we are all encouraged to self-identify in Ferris, you’ll find it hard to not believe in him too.
Dir: John Hughes
Scr: John Hughes
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Mia Sara, Alan Ruck, Jennifer Grey, Jeffrey Jones
Prd: John Hughes, Tom Jacobson
DOP: Tak Fujimoto
Music: Ira Newborn, Arthur Baker, John Robie
Run time: 103 minutes