There are movies I watch over and over because I feel better when they are over. In these days of quarantine I’ve been visiting some of my favorites for a necessary dose of happiness. I watched the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” earlier this week. It is an ideal pick-me-up if you’re feeling the walls starting to close in on you.
Writer-director John Hughes was on a roll during 1984-1986. He was the man who was bringing the life of the American teenager to film. His movies were all comedic with clever truths about growing up hidden amongst the laughs. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was the next to last of these films. It also captured the joy of a perfect day skipping school.
The story is simple Ferris Bueller is the most popular kid in school. He knows that his time with his best friend Cameron is coming to an end. He wants to take his very uptight friend on one last joy ride of a day. The movie is the realization of that plan. It is the kind of last day we all would like to have with our high school friends before we graduate.
Mr. Hughes cast Matthew Broderick as Ferris. I am not sure there are too many actors that can tread the line of charming con man with a plan without becoming icky. Mr. Broderick navigates it brilliantly. As an audience you root for every scheme to work. The other thing Mr. Hughes does is to have Ferris speak directly to the audience, called breaking the fourth wall. At times throughout the movie he looks at the screen and tells us what is going on. That is one of the secrets to the charm of the performance. It co-opts the audience into being a member of the crew. If you know what’s happening, you are part of the day off.
The movie moves through one set piece after the other. All of them iconic in one way or another. They can be described in a couple words. “Danke Schoen” “Sausage King” “Ferrari”. I can just watch any scene from the movie and instantly lift my spirits.
If you need a break from the world for a couple hours let me prescribe “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. I think it is almost impossible not to have a smile on your face by the end.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was the fourth movie directed by John Hughes. In his first four directorial efforts he was focused on the high school experience. Starting with Sixteen Candles, followed by The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science; he had delved into that world completely. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off he was now placing his characters at the end of high school facing the uncertain future. The lead characters decide to take a “day off” because in Ferris’ words “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Over the next hour and a half Ferris, his best friend Cameron and his girlfriend Sloan have every student’s version of a skip day ever imagined.
(from l. to r.) Ferris (Matthew Broderick) Sloan (Mia Sara) Cameron (Alan Ruck)
The actor chosen to play Ferris is much of why this movie is still talked about so many years after its release. Matthew Broderick so inhabited the role I imagine many people would think Mr. Broderick was Ferris and want to participate in his charmed life. Mr. Hughes asked Ferris to break the fourth wall and throughout the movie he speaks directly to the audience. It is this one-sided conversation that provides the necessary insight into Ferris’ choices. This is about having fun but this is also the last time for him to get the attention of his two closest friends. This is Mr. Broderick’s breakout role on the movie screen. He was able to give some depth to what looks like something so shallow. That also has a lot to do with the words Mr. Hughes put into his mouth as he was also the writer for the film as well as the director.
Outside of the obvious 1980’s things like no cell phones Ferris Bueller’s Day Off still works today. I think it speaks to the timelessness of many of the themes explored in the film. I will admit that I have made sure to keep an eye on the life going on around me so that I don’t “miss it.” I believe it is that curiosity which has brought me to the place where I am in my life right now. Despite it being thirty years on there is still more than a little of Ferris in my heart and my head. While thirty years is a long time there has been a lot to see and I treasure all of it.