Skip to main content

Ferris Bueller, you're my hero.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
(1986)

(SPOILERS) John Hughes’ greatest, most lasting contribution to western civilisation. Time Out’s review of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off opined that it was unfortunate no one got to ring the little bastard’s neck, and a number of reviewers have taken issue with the movie’s apparent unchecked materialism: a teenager running amok, unfettered, in the avaricious ‘80s and getting away with it. Which is fair comment; one might regard Ferris, his aspirations and achievements, as the inevitable end product of such self-involved, me-centric “progress”. Which is also why the movie is both hugely satisfying and entirely empty.

What isn’t often recognised about Bueller is how masterful Hughes’ screenplay is. It’s so perfectly structured and judged, scene-by-scene, one might almost imagine it as the result if the Coen brothers were ever to make an upbeat, frivolous teen movie (and you can see a not-completely-dissimilar cartoonish energy in their Raising Arizona of the following year).

Ferris: I don’t believe in people, I just believe in me.

One might charitably view Ferris’ statement as valuing individuality over mass conformity and hive-mentality, except that his expression of self-belief is lying, cheating and stealing to win out. Without a conscience. If he treats his parents that way, and manages to bring on board even those who don’t believe in him – his sister most of all, who recognises the insidious nature of his influence – then there’s no stopping him; he is Damien Thorne. Ferris Bueller embodies the free passes and charmed lives lived by the privileged elite, and we cheer him on. There are sops here, of course – the privileged kid is both drink and drug free on his day of abandon, and if not chaste then non-carnal – but that’s in the nature of the bubble-gum frivolity of Hughes’ confection.

Ferris: You think I don’t care?
Cameron: I know you don’t care.

Cameron, meanwhile, is characterised by existential dread at the meaninglessness of Ferris’ – and thus civilisation’s – empty-minded contentment (it has been suggested that Ferris, Fight Club-style, is a figment of Cameron’s id, which is a nice idea until you begin to analyse it). Ferris knows just how to get ahead, to beat the system, to thrive on it and its corrupted avenues. Cameron blanches at that – there’s “Nothing good” there, or anywhere, as he observes – but ultimately lets his friend and user off the hook; his choice is thus the hinge upon which Hughes’ film lives or dies. Cameron says what his friend has done is okay.

I don’t remotely buy into the idea that Ferris is helping his friend out of a suicidal depression. Everything Ferris does and says in that regard is his excuse for having a good time. If he reallycared about Cameron, he’d never have borrowed his dad’s car in the first place. That is, unless he knew he was in a movie and everything would work out in the end because John Hughes was scripting it... Which I suppose he does, since he addresses the camera throughout. But in that case, attempting to scrutinise the movie in terms of the lead character’s moral underpinnings is pointless either way. He’s simply an avatar for whatever is required for self-reflexive fun at any point.

Rooney: I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind.

Of course, Principal Rooney is also aware of his own limitations, much as Cameron is, but the system has already collapsed upon him, and thus he is fuelled by resentment rather than despair. That’s why, while Ferris is guilty of contempt through failing to consider others, Rooney is actively worse through wishing ruin on his nemesis’ very life. It’s a shame one can’t help but be conscious of Jeffrey Jones’ extra-curricular activities when seeing his performances now, as his comic timing is flawless, and it’s very easy to get on board with his doomed, Wylie Coyote attempts to catch his Road Runner, to increasing physical dereliction as the day progresses. He’s gifted some great lines along the way, too (“You just produce a corpse and I’ll release Sloane” and “Tell ya what, dipshit. If you don’t like my policies, you can come on down here and smooch my big ol’ white butt”, both preludes to his crushing deflation).

Jeanie: Why don’t you put your thumb up your butt?

Indeed, while Ferris may be morally dubious in his take-take manner, he’s quite generous when it comes to apportioning the funniest moments in his movie. He’s the straight man, in a sense, and around him are a whirl of a larger-than-life characters, Sloane (Mia Sara) aside, although even she gets an amusing moment involving his dad “licking the glass and making obscene gestures with his hands”. Jeanie’s rage-driven crescendo sees Jennifer Grey on comic form not seen since (and definitely not recognisably, what with her career-flummoxing rhinoplasty); she is utterly delightful when letting out a giddy laugh on taking her leave of Charlie Sheen’s wastoid (as with Cameron, Hughes foists forgiveness of Ferris on her, albeit understandably as she is high on Charlie’s tiger blood).

Ferris: We ate, we ate pancreas.

Ruck, who had co-starred with Broderick in Biloxi Blues on Broadway (they didn’t get to do the film together, though), is a completely convincing 30-going-on-17, and his delivery of “Pardon my French, but you’re an asshole!” is all the funnier for the expression on his face when he says it. Edie McClurg is similarly note-perfect as Grace, her signature moment being the “They all love Ferris” speech.

Ferris: We’ll drive home backwards.

And Hughes as a director is at his most freewheeling and inventive (Broderick suggested “a lot of that movie was really polished up in post”). Much of what we see here would feed into the broader slapstick of Uncle Buck and Chris Columbus’ Hughes-written and produced Home Alones, but there’s a more encompassing, energised flow to the visuals here, from the also-entirely-self-serving jaunt taken by the wage-slave garage guys – whom Ferris treats dismissively, and Cameron suspiciously, such that they prove reactive in both respects – to the accompaniment of the Star Wars theme, to the performance of Twist and Shout, to the chase home (Sergio Leone-spoofing close-ups of eyes, two years before Joe Dante outright homaged him in The ‘Burbs). And the gorgeous art gallery interlude, with Dream Academy’s version of The Smiths’ Please Please Let Me Get What I Want showing what can be done with their tunes when you don’t have to listen to Morrissey as part of the deal.

Sloane: Ferris can do anything.

So yes, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is an uplifting work of genius despite all this – you really believe he is going to marry Sloane – despite its lead character being a spoilt, self-regarding little bastard. A sequel was mooted for a spell, but Broderick and Hughes decided it was “a singular time” that couldn’t be repeated; Ruck’s idea for a follow up was a sort of Last of the Summer Buellers, with Cameron in a nursing home and both friends now in their seventies. Which is pretty neat, but with the sadly early expiration date of Hughes, it’s doubtful any will want to go near his legacy (aside from inevitably remaking it). This is easily his best movie, rising above its teen stablemates by virtue of an inclusive knowingness and lack of (overt) sentimentality, and also bettering his later more adult (and also child-centric) spins. Is Ferris Bueller a righteous dude? No, but we’ll keep pretending he is. That’s part of his charm.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Trouble’s part of the circus. They said Barnum was in trouble when he lost Tom Thumb.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
(SPOILERS) Anyone of a mind that it’s a recent development for the Oscars to cynically crown underserving recipients should take a good look at this Best Picture winner from the 25thAcademy Awards. In this case, it’s generally reckoned that the Academy felt it was about time to honour Hollywood behemoth Cecil B DeMille, by that point into his seventies and unlikely to be jostling for garlands much longer, before it was too late. Of course, he then only went and made a bona fide best picture contender, The Ten Commandments, and only then pegged it. Because no, The Greatest Show on Earth really isn’t very good.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

What lit the fire that set off our Mr Reaper?

Death Wish (2018)
(SPOILERS) I haven’t seen the original Death Wish, the odd clip aside, and I don’t especially plan to remedy that, owing to an aversion to Charles Bronson when he isn’t in Once Upon a Time in the West and an aversion to Michael Winner when he wasn’t making ‘60s comedies or Peter Ustinov Hercule Poirots. I also have an aversion to Eli Roth, though (this is the first of his oeuvre I’ve seen, again the odd clip aside, as I have a general distaste for his oeuvre), and mildly to Bruce when he’s on autopilot (most of the last twenty years), so really, I probably shouldn’t have checked this one out. It was duly slated as a fascistic, right-wing rallying cry, even though the same slaters consider such behaviour mostly okay if the protagonist is super-powered and wearing a mask when taking justice into his (or her) own hands, but the truth is this remake is a quite serviceable, occasionally amusing little revenger, one that even has sufficient courage in its skewed convictions …

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Monster? We’re British, you know.

Horror Express (1972)
(SPOILERS) This berserk Spanish/British horror boasts Hammer titans Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (both as good guys!) to its name, and cloaked in period trappings (it’s set in 1906), suggests a fairly standard supernatural horror, one with crazy priests and satanic beasts. But, with an alien life form aboard the Trans-Siberian Express bound for Moscow, Horror Express finishes up more akin to The Cassandra Crossing meets The Thing.

Countess Petrovski: The czar will hear of this. I’ll have you sent to Siberia. Captain Kazan: I am in Siberia!
Christopher Lee’s Alexander Saxton, anthropologist and professor of the Royal Geological Society, has retrieved a frozen corpse from Manchuria. Believing it might be the Missing Link he crates it up to transport home via the titular train. Other passengers include his colleague and rival Dr Wells (Cushing), an international spy, and an antic monk called Father Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza, strikingly lunatic), who for some rea…

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

You had to grab every single dollar you could get your hands on, didn't you?

Triple Frontier (2019)
(SPOILERS) Triple Frontier must have seemed like a no-brainer for Netflix, even by their standards of indiscriminately greenlighting projects whenever anyone who can’t get a job at a proper studio asks. It had, after all, been a hot property – nearly a decade ago now – with Kathryn Bigelow attached as director (she retains a producing credit) and subsequently JC Chandor, who has seen it through to completion. Netflix may not have attracted quite the same level of prospective stars – Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum were all involved at various points – but as ever, they haven’t stinted on the production. To what end, though? Well, Bigelow’s involvement is a reliable indicator; this is a movie about very male men doing very masculine things and suffering stoically for it.