Skip to main content

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #88: Ferris Bueller's Day Off

American high schools were fertile ground for John Hughes as a writer and director. They provided the setting for the classic The Breakfast Club (1985), which featured five typical characters from that world, and the following year Hughes struck gold again with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. That movie featured a character who is in a way the king of a Chicago high school and who is so confident he skilfully skips school with his best friend and girlfriend by his side. Ferris is a bit like James Bond for high school: girls want him and boys want to be him.

For many people this was a movie that defined their generation, especially if they saw it while still in high school. However since it came out the year I was born that was impossible for me. It’s a shame, because the high school movie that was the big hit during my formative years was American Pie (1999). Generation X people got to see Matthew Broderick sing Twist and Shout at a parade, while Millenials got to see Jason Biggs stuffing his crotch into a pie. No offence to Mr. Biggs, but when I saw Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on TV it became pretty clear to me which group had the best high school movies.

Hughes gave his main character a bit of a Shakespearean touch by having Ferris directly address the audience as he explains his plan to ditch school on a beautiful sunny day. Why waste time indoors listening to a boring teacher while he could be outside enjoying what the city has to offer? Ferris’ plans and attitude would be horrifying to any teacher, but in his defence his economics teacher (Ben Stein) is so boring the students who are in the classroom can barely stay awake. The way Stein drones Ferris’ name while calling attendance is so perfectly boring it has become his signature line: “Buller…Buller…Buller.”

You do have to give it to Ferris; he has given this particular day off a lot of thought. His first step is to fake an illness for his adoring parents (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett), who do not suspect a thing. Next he fabricates an excuse to get his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) out of school and convinces his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) to provide transportation for the day by borrowing his father’s prized Ferrari. To cover his bases, Ferris even hacks the school records to reduce his number of absences.

Two people are not fooled by Ferris’ plans and decide to give chase like the Will E. Coyote going after the Road Runner. First there is Dean of Students Edward R. Rooney who has made catching Ferris once and for all his priority. Then there is Ferris’ own sister Jeannie (Jennifer Grey) who is not as easily fooled by her brother’s charm and is sick of him getting away with everything he wants. Unfortunately for the both of them, Ferris is a slippery quarry as he travels from Wrigley Field to a street parade and to the Arts Institute of Chicago. Well, at least Ferris and his friends are broadening their minds.

There is also a lot of introspection for these characters throughout this one-day as they ponder over their future. Ferris and Sloane are happy together, but they have to wonder if they will remain that way after high school. Meanwhile Cameron cannot live in the moment because he is always worrying about his father’s precious car and what will happen to him should it get so much as a scratch, leading to a nervous breakdown. Jeannie gets some life lessons of her own from, of all people, a truant played by Charlie Sheen who tells her she should spend less time worrying about her brother and focus on herself instead.


For a movie about a guy ditching school, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has a surprisingly enduring legacy. It has served as a launching pad many of the actors’ careers, was quoted by former First Lady Barbara Bush, and its post-credit scene was recreated by Ryan Reynolds in last year’s Deadpool. The key to the film’s success, I believe, is that Ferris is not some slacker who simply doesn’t want to work, but a free spirit who wants to live life to the fullest. Or in his own words: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.”

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #85: Blue Velvet

Exactly how do you describe a David Lynch movie? He is one of the few directors whose style is so distinctive that his last name has become an adjective. According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of Lynchian is: “having the same balance between the macabre and the mundane found in the works of filmmaker David Lynch.” To see a prime example of that adjective film lovers need look no further than Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), which does indeed begin in the mundane before slowly sinking in macabre violence.
My first introduction to the world of David Lynch was through his ground breaking, but unfortunately interrupted, early 1990s TV series Twin Peaks. This was one of the first television shows to grab viewers with a series-long mystery: who killed Laura Palmer? A mix of soap opera, police procedural, and the supernatural, it is a unique show that showed the darkness hidden in suburbia and remains influential to this day. Featuring Kyle MacLachlan as an FBI investigator with a love for …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #90: When Harry Met Sally...

There is an age-old question regarding whether single men and women can be just friends. In real life the answer is obviously “yes,” but in movies and TV the answer always has to be that at some point two single characters will get attracted to each other and move beyond friendship. On TV I find this to be contrived and overused, but some movies can have a lot of fun with the concept, most notably Rob Reiner’s comedy classic When Harry Met Sally…(1989). It may not change your view on love and friendship, but it forever changed the meaning of the phrase “I’ll have what she’s having.”
On paper this film’s premise sounds like another rom-com, but seen by oneself during an evening of Netflix binging it does make you think about deep stuff like the long-term impact of your decisions on your life. A person you meet during a tense trip might turn up again sometime later down the road in the most unexpected ways. If there is one thing I believe in it is infinite possibilities, and Nora Ephron…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #83: Brazil

Dystopian movies from the 1980s are a funny thing since we now live in the future of those movies and if you look at the news for more than five minutes it will feel as though we are one bad day away from being into a dystopia. On the plus side, if it ends up looking like the dystopia portrayed in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) at least we will have lovely architecture to look at while the government is busy telling us how to think. This might not be a movie that will cheer you up, but the production design is amazing, the performances are great throughout, and you get to see Robert DeNiro play a maintenance man/freedom fighter.
I first saw Brazil as a Terry Gilliam double feature at the Universit√© de Sherbrooke’s movie club paired along with 12 Monkeys around ten years ago. Those two films are similar in that they both feature a rather dour future and, as with most Gilliam movies, incredibly intricate sets. However the dystopian future in Brazil is somewhat scarier than the disease-ra…