Sometimes I feel like I missed out on a lot of critical high school experiences. I never did anything that would qualify as a senior prank (although a group of guys either dropped a couple of crabs down the school toilets or set them loose in the hallways; I’m always fuzzy on the details). I never went to any crazy parties, joined the glee club (my school didn’t even have one), or got a makeover and became the most popular girl in school overnight even though the beauty was inside me all along.
But most relevant to this review, I never skipped class for the sake of skipping class, or because I was in grade 12 and it was expected of me. So maybe that’s why I had a little bit of trouble identifying with the titular character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Ferris has decided that, especially with graduation looming in a couple of months, that the day is far too nice to spend inside. He fakes sick and enlists his neurotic, manically depressed best friend Cameron, along with his girlfriend Sloane, to go on a whirlwind big-city adventure that includes stealing Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari, eating pancreas, visiting an art museum, joining a parade and singing “Twist and Shout,” and finishing up by absolutely destroying the Ferrari.
While all this is going on, both Principal Rooney and Ferris’s older sister Jeannie are determined to catch him in the act of skipping school. For Jeannie, this (ironically) turns into skipping school herself. For Rooney, this turns into good ol’-fashioned breaking and entering, because education is serious business. Ferris gets caught sneaking back into the house, but with a well-placed threat, Jeannie is able to get him off the hook so he can get back into bed just in time to fool his parents once again.
Ferris is meant to be a charming, likeable character who can do whatever he likes and get away with it. He’s actually popular to the point where his imaginary illness whips up the community into a “Save Ferris” frenzy and they start taking donations for a new kidney.
Cameron, on the other hand, doesn’t have many friends, has some pretty awful parents, and internalizes his home stresses to the point where he takes a lot of sick days. And that’s why this theory is floating around the interwebs, saying that the whole day — not to mention Ferris himself — only exists in Cameron’s head.
I don’t hold with that theory, though. See, it’s not unusual for two very different people to become friends. It happens all the time. And it’s possible that someone as outgoing and well-liked as Ferris could find a person like Cameron to be a challenge, or as a natural foil to his own extroverted nature. But they were also friends since like the fourth grade, which is generally long before things like popularity and family life begin to affect the kind of person you become.
At the beginning Ferris says, “If anyone needs a day off, it’s Cameron. He has a lot of things to sort out before he graduates… Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you’d have a diamond.”
So it makes sense for Ferris to want to bring him along on his magical day out, especially since Cameron is the one with the car. You could look at their friendship as one of convenience if you wanted to, but I think Ferris is genuinely fond of his friend and loves any opportunity to bring him out of his shell.
But it’s even deeper than that. Another common interpretation of this movie is the anti-suicide message. Ferris correctly figures out that Cameron is depressed to the point of wanting to kill himself, which is partly why he decides to plan this day out. After all, he’s already skipped nine times that semester; why should one more day have any kind of benefit for him? No, this day isn’t for him. It’s for Cameron.
Ferris says, “All I wanted to do was give him a good day. We’re gonna graduate in a couple of months. Then we’ll have the summer. He’ll work and I’ll work. And we’ll see each other at night and on the weekends, but then he’ll go to one school and I’ll go to another. And basically that’ll be it. As much as we like each other, the process of growing up will separate us.”
Their friendship is reaching the breaking point that so many friendships do when graduation approaches. I’ve only maintained close relationships with a couple of high school classmates, and there are only two or three more that I still speak to on a semi-regular basis. And I only graduated five years ago from a class of 60, many of whom I went to kindergarten with. If I can’t even maintain that level of connectivity with people who still live within a 150-kilometre radius in the social media era we’re living in, how can Ferris Bueller possibly expect to do the same?
So this day isn’t just for Ferris to skive off school, drive a Ferrari, eat weird food, and gallivant around the city. Ferris says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop every once in a while to look around, you could miss it.” In the same vein, life can go off the rails pretty fast, too. I think he recognizes that this is possibly one of the last chances he’ll get to spend with his clinically depressed friend and make sure he’ll be okay when they go their separate ways.
That’s why it’s such a relief for both Ferris and the viewer when Cameron trashes his dad’s Ferrari. He’s making a statement: he wants people (including his parents) to pay attention to him, and he wants to stop being afraid and move forward with his life. After the scare in the swimming pool just an hour or so earlier, when Cameron was so ready to end it all, this is a massive step forward for him. And it’s a reassurance for Ferris that his friend will be all right.
Maybe it’s not just about Cameron, though. Maybe it’s about Ferris himself, too, but not in the way you’d expect. After all, everyone likes him. His parents adore him and won’t hear a word against him. Is it possible that he’s more than a little overwhelmed by the sheer weight of everyone’s expectations? Could it be that he doesn’t have it all together and maybe is a little scared of what’s coming next?
I mean, think about it. He keeps talking to the camera. At first it’s to give us advice on how to play sick, but really, how relevant is that information gonna be in a couple of months when he’s graduated? Nobody’s going to check up on him while he’s away at college to make sure he’s attending classes. Seems to me that Ferris starts out cocky and knowledgeable and then looks to the audience as a sounding board while he tries to sort through some of the more complicated ideas floating around inside his head.
This day off is also the day he decides to marry Sloane. But he doesn’t even have that plan completely together. “Sloane’s a bigger problem. She still has another year of high school. How do I deal with that? I was serious when I said I’d marry her. I would. This isn’t just teenage infatuation.” Ferris seems to be stuck in that awkward place between being a kid and being an adult. He has some idea of where he wants to go, but he’s not quite grown-up enough to pull it off yet.
I’m not sure why he’s so hung up on Sloane, though, given that she’s a pretty flat character. Yeah, she’s comfortable with her sexuality and with her boyfriend’s best friend seeing her naked, but apart from that she’s just kind of your typical teenage girl: prone to screaming (although I guess she had good reason for it) and way too accepting of the fact that she’ll probably marry her current boyfriend.
I don’t think Sloane is very rounded out, but maybe she doesn’t have to be. It could be a piece of evidence to support that theory I pointed out earlier, like if she’s Cameron’s mental projection based on a hot girl he doesn’t know too well. Or for those who don’t like that theory, like me, it could just be that this movie isn’t about her and so doesn’t need for her to be well-rounded. I mean, what’s the point of creating a really fleshed-out female character when they only exist to be talked about and planned around? (…she asked sarcastically.)
Jeannie, on the other hand, was a much better representation of a female character, even if she is a raging sociopath. I get it; it’s hard not being as well-liked as a sibling, when it seems like they can get away with anything while you get nailed every time. But she takes that resentment to a whole new level: seriously, how many high school students get into police chases and win just so they can rat out their brother?
Her obsession with getting justice takes her home, where she’s threatened by an intruder and is arrested by the police for filing a false report. When they take Jeannie down to the station, she runs into a druggie who informs her that she “oughta spend a little more time dealing with yourself and a little less time worrying about what your brother does.” That’s pretty sound advice in general, because a lot of our problems boil down to us being concerned about what other people are doing.
And when Jeannie realizes that, she starts evolving as a person. She makes out with the druggie and quite probably falls deeply in love with him, because seriously that girl was smitten and a half. But then she literally runs into Ferris on the way home from the station, and both of them race home so she can prove that he isn’t sick after all.
Yet when she does get home and interrupts the showdown between Ferris and Principal Rooney, she lies her butt off to save him and sends him upstairs to bed before their parents notice he was gone. Why would she do that when just a minute ago she was so eager to prove that he isn’t the perfect son their parents think he is?
I’ve only got two answers, and I’d love to hear your thoughts if you think something different: A) she takes Charlie Sheen’s advice to heart just in time, or B) family sticks together, and the only person who’s allowed to take down Ferris is her. Either way, that’s some pretty awesome character development, and I love it.
Then there’s Rooney. Now, this is a pretty common thing I’ve observed in the few John Hughes movies I’ve watched: he likes to give the power to the teenagers and knock the authority figures down a few pegs.
But those clever-clogs over at Cracked had it right (as they so often do) when they said, “It doesn’t matter if, on a personal level, he’s a d*ck or not — he is literally paid with your tax money to make sure kids aren’t doing exactly what Derris did. The kid can go to a museum and drive a sports car on the weekend. During the week, he and the other kids are Rooney’s responsibility so they can, you know, get an education.”
Rooney was just doing his job. Whether he goes about it the right way or not is kind of irrelevant, given that he’s being punished just for trying to keep Ferris in school. Yeah, he’s petty and vindictive, which isn’t how a professional should run a school. But at the same time he’s trying to make sure this kid is getting his best chance at a career by not screwing around during his high school years. What’s so terrible about that?
Overall, I’d say this is a decent ’80s era flick. On the surface it’s a fun movie about three friends skipping school, hitting the town, and hiding from their parents. When you dig a little deeper, though, it’s about figuring out the future when you’re a scared teenager who isn’t sure what comes next after graduation.
And maybe that’s why this movie has endured the way it has: because no matter how old you get or how much of life you think you’ve figured out, there’s always going to be something that knocks you back on your butt and reminds you that no, you really, really don’t. But with a smart head on your shoulders and a few good friends, you might just figure it out anyway.
Final Grade: B+
- Rooney, you are the worst principal in the history of ever, and not just for the burglary thing. When you see a student making out with someone you think is her dad, you either A) need to rip the disguise off the obviously teenage boy, or B) call freakin’ social services. Option C, saying “So that’s how their family is,” is not an acceptable response.
- I’m pretty sure you can’t just hack into the school records and rewrite the number of sick days you’ve had. Not in 1986, anyway.
- Dang, I love that after-credits scene.
- I am a huge fan of Grace, for more than the single most obvious reason. Her hair. The phrase “righteous dude.” Impersonating Rooney on the phone. If there’s ever a reason for me to get a secretary (sorry, administrative professional), I want them to be exactly like that. Even if they’re a dude, because I’m all about gender equality. That is all.