Iconic movies are really fun to watch, especially if they were released before your time. When I first saw movies like Psycho (1960), Apocalypse Now (1979), and Rocky (1976) a whole bunch of cartoons that parodied them suddenly became much funnier. That’s essentially what happened when I finally got around to seeing Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986). The parodies that referenced these movies were funny, but the movies themselves were fantastic.
Everyone at school loves Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick); he’s one of the coolest seniors, and everything seems to go his way. One morning in the spring, he decides to take the day off. Using some elaborate schemes, he fakes being sick and convinces his parent to excuse him from school. Ferris talks his pessimistic friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck), who actually is sick, to join him and get Ferris’s girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara) out of school, too. The three take Cameron’s father’s prized car, a red convertible 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California, and spend the day roaming around Chicago. The three visit famous Chicago landmarks such as the Sears Tower, the Art Institute of Chicago, and a game at Wrigley Field all while dodging Mr. Bueller who is innocuously going about his job. Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), the suspicious Dean of Students, knows what Ferris is like and is bent on exposing his antics. Ferris’s sister, Jeanie (Jennifer Grey), is sick of Ferris getting away with everything and also wants to expose Ferris to their parents. Mr. Rooney and Jeanie both threaten to ruin Ferris’s last fling with friends before they graduate and go to different colleges.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has all the quintessential aspects of a generic “teen movie.” It glorifies young people; they succeed at nearly everything they do and outsmart the adults who should be much more intelligent and experienced. Like a lot of teen movies, the adults in Ferris Bueller are one-dimensional and don’t try or want to understand the cool and trendy teenagers. The Adults basically exist to prevent teenagers from having fun. Ferris’s parents, however, really do show a genuine concern and love for their children. I thought that was refreshing; a lot of movies aimed at a kid or teen audiences depict parents as stupid, aloof, or even antagonistic towards their children.
Everyone in the movie loves Ferris Bueller. Even his enemies (like Mr. Rooney and Jeanie) admire him and want him to fail out of jealousy. Ferris breaks the fourth wall several times throughout the film to speak to the audience about his plans and thoughts. The things Ferris says to the audience are often insightful about the nature of people and the world. It’s a bit uncharacteristic for a teenager to be as intuitive and perceptive as Ferris. Heck, I want a friend like Ferris Bueller!
One of the most interesting aspects of Ferris is he is the mentor archetype; this type of character usually does not appear as the main protagonist. Other mentor archetypes include Yoda from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980); Alfred from Batman Begins (2004); and Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid (1984). These characters play an important part; they teach and guide the hero so the hero can succeed. Ferris is knowledgeable and insightful enough to have this role and he desires to impart this knowledge and spiritual insight to Cameron. Cameron is trapped within his own misery, and kept there by an oppressive father. Ferris takes it upon himself to show Cameron that life is what you make of it and that Cameron’s illusory limitations are imposed by an authority figure that can’t hold Cameron back much longer. Ferris even acts as a mentor to the audience when he breaks the fourth wall, imparting advice to the viewers as well.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is at its core a very fun and light-hearted film. It also touches on deeper subjects of fulfillment and responsibility. It revels in youthful enthusiasm of the world, shows fun characters taking their first steps into the maturity of adulthood, has plenty of laughs, and includes a musical number featuring Twist and Shout by The Beatles. What’s not to love? It remains a favorite to many people. It’s certainly worth watching at least once, maybe even worth getting a copy for your collection.