A pretty uncomfortable PG-13. I host a film club at Villa and this was on the list. Man, 1986 was a time where you could comfortably drop the f-bomb and still get a PG-13 rating. I remembered that Ferris at one point was drawing a naked lady on his computer using Microsoft Paint. You see the main cast in their wet underwear and Cameron peeps on Sloan changing, but we're not involved in that. Also, it has an absolutely over-the-top moment of innuendo. Regardless, PG-13.
DIRECTOR: John Hughes
What I'm about to write is pretty anecdotal. I remember either reading or hearing this somewhere, but I think that Ferris Bueller's Day Off might be one of the few movies that Roger Ebert or Leonard Maltin ever gave a perfect score. I was convinced that it was Roger Ebert because of the Chicago setting, but I also think that Leonard Maltin gave it the full five stars. Regardless, there's a good reason and I'm totally going to steal that logic for the basis for my analysis.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off is one of those movies that I watched way too many times in high school. These were the halcyon days of watching the same fifteen to twenty movies on repeat. As a nerd who would one day grow into a nerd who would blog, I was convinced by society that Ferris Bueller was cool. I also imagined that his school was my school. My school was nothing like his school. I don't know why I was so ready to lie to myself about how school worked or how it looked like. Regardless, I wanted to be Ferris Bueller. That's probably not entirely accurate. I wanted to be friends with Ferris Bueller, because, like probably most bloggers, I was secretly Cameron Frye. I never had the relationship stuff with my parents. My parents weren't rich and didn't value objects over people. I was just really tightly strung. I had elements of Ferris Bueller, sure. I actually sang a song on a cafeteria table at one point. But no one can really relate to Ferris Bueller. Ferris Bueller is the fantasy. Considering that the movie posits Ferris Bueller as the protagonist, it actually isn't Ferris's story. Hughes designed Ferris Bueller's Day Off to be one the of the greatest misdirects in cinema history. Again, this insight is totally stolen, but I stand by it 100%. On the surface, this seems like a really superficial comedy about a kid trying not trying to get caught. You know, the teenage version of Baby's Day Out. But there's little doubt that Ferris is going to get caught. He's constantly encountering near misses, but the movie works because Ferris's confidence is contagious. He believes he's going to get out of it, so we know that he will. Rather, this story is about Cameron and the actual pressures of high school. I probably know a thousand Camerons. I know no Ferrises. The most confident person I know is still more of a Cameron than a Ferris. Cameron is someone who is constantly thinking of all of the struggles in front of him or her. I teach in a school of Camerons. Movies tend to tell us that high school is all about parties and good times. Rather, high school is constantly trying to keep you head above water while watching other people coast. As an adult, I can look back and think that other people weren't actually coasting, but it looked that way to me when I was in high school. Cameron has to be sick constantly just to get a moment to breathe out. In his situation, he was hiding from his parents and their expectations of him. But that simply suited the narrative.
Cameron is the one who actually has a through line. Ferris Bueller is a round character, but he's completely static. He's probably one of the few examples of a round / static combination. But Cameron is dynamic and round. He is the character that is actually going through a journey throughout the story. Cameron's first scene in the film has him unable to move. He believes that he is dying and would like nothing more than to comply with that death. As the movie progresses, his key trait is that he is angry and resentful for having to confront life at gunpoint, per Ferris's demands. Watch him over the course of the movie and see how that changes. At one point, Cameron gets so on board that he claims that he "hasn't seen anything good today." He is so comfortable with what has happened that he can actually critique Ferris, albeit in a jokey-way. But then Hughes messes with the formula. He gives Cameron the best day of his life and then instantly confronts him with his worst fear. We have this internal conflict that is possibly the best confrontation between what is expected and what actually happens. Cameron melts down a little bit. Hughes keeps it a little cryptic how much Cameron is playing and how much of it is a real meltdown, but Cameron physically changes when he realizes that he has to confront his father about the car. Ferris can't really understand this. Ferris, as a static character, can only watch agape. The only change he can make is not know what to do. He offers solutions to Cameron at one point. The suggestion actually seems kind of plausible. The worst part about Ferris's suggestion on how to fix the car is that it is annoying to pull off. But old Cameron would have rushed headfirst into the protecting arms of Ferris. Instead, he kicks a car out of a building. It's absolutely great. There's this clear, physically verifiable change in Cameron when he murders his father. (I just came up with the Cameron murdering his father metaphor that I'm going to run with.) The car represents so much. GEEZ! My brain is breaking and I'm sure that Hughes never had this kind of insight into it. The car represents Cameron's father. It is this precious thing that his father adores. But look how much fun he has when he takes it out for a drive. He has the best day of his life. Instead, all these years, Cameron had to watch this car from a distance. He could have been close to his father had his father allowed him to do so. But instead, it took a day of breaking the rules to actually discover what his father had been hiding from him. The end implies that Cameron and his father will have a permanent break, but that's healthier than pretending everything is copacetic. Kicking the car out of the building is kicking his father out of his life. I wonder if the change happened in the museum.
The museum sequence is one of my favorite scenes in cinema. Maybe it's a bit pretentious because it is meant to be. I'm actually listening to the score to that scene right now and I have the whole thing in my mind's eye. All of the characters make choices. We learn something about all of the characters in this moment. While Ferris is static, he is round. Taking the group to the museum to simply observe great works of art actually says a lot about his character. Ferris Bueller can easily be written off as a good-time-Charley. He does a lot of things that would be consistent with the party-guy archetype. But he doesn't want his day off to be fun. He wants it to be special. He wants to grow from it. Remember, Ferris has taken off of school nine times in that year alone. This day seems pretty darned special for him and his team. He is there as a friend and he's there as a date. I think this is the moment that he really believes that he wants to marry Sloan. Sloan also really solidifies one of her real character traits in this moment as well. It's interesting to see Ferris through someone's eyes who expects him to be great. There's no falsehood between the two of them, despite the fact that Ferris flirts with the girls at the end. (While I love the joke, it does remind us that Ferris doesn't grow much throughout the film.) The scene in the museum shows that she's not just along for the ride. She is loving everything presented to her. She's open and vulnerable constantly. She observes art from a point of appreciation. I don't want to overly tout the male protagonist at the sacrificial altar of Sloan Peterson, but I think she views Ferris in the same way that she views art. Sloan has the moment of true love in this story. She sees the great things that he does and doesn't view him as a celebrity. She views him as the god who chose her. This all seems a bit regressive and I'm not proud of this analysis, but there's something Superman-y and Lois Lane-y about the whole thing. Ferris is the god in the story and he chose Sloan. But Lois, in herself, doesn't allow herself to be led by the god around. She holds him accountable. She makes sure that he continues to be true to himself. That's Sloan. Then there's Cameron. I've said a lot about Cameron in this analysis and I could probably say more. But look at his face as he's analyzing Georges Seurat. It's so good that he's studying pointillism. He sees the ultimate significance and insignificance of every little dot. He is that dot. He is part of the picture, but no one will ever know that. He's in the shadow of Ferris Bueller. Ferris Bueller is not a dot. But Cameron is a dot, albeit an important dot.
I love this movie so much. It's deep and I know that I've taken it deeper than the movie probably should have. It is genuinely funny. What John Hughes made here, and this is typical of Hughes himself, is something that works on a surface level as entertainment, while simultaneously offering truths about the human condition. We don't really get this in comedy that much anymore. Maybe some of this is touched upon in the works of Judd Apatow, but I feel like Hughes is far more sneaky than Apatow. Regardless, Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a work of genius. While I clenched up anytime something inappropriate happened, I noticed how the kids absolutely loved the film. It's oddly timeless, even though no high school was like that now or ever.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.