This review for the John Hughes Blogathon comes from The Dirk Malcolm Alternative. Thanks for joining in on this blogathon! Let’s hear his thoughts on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. 🙂
FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (Hughes, US, 1986)
“The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.”
– Grace, the school secretary
I am presently trying to compose a list of the 100 best films that have been produced since STAR WARS (1977). John Hughes is a post-New Hope auteur who created a new strain of Teen Movie for the multiplex generation. Why do I think FERRIS BUELLER… deserves a place on the list above his other films? THE BREAKFAST CLUB is more important as it launched the careers of many of the so-called brat pack. HOME ALONE, that he wrote, was more commercially successful. PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES is funnier.
But, FERRIS… is wise.
It has a wisdom that transcends the ‘teen flick’ with all of its usual angst: the struggle to get noticed in a world that doesn’t care and the consuming need to find a partner. Its about more than that, its a manifesto for a way of life. Ferris is a righteous dude.
It is a simple story with a flimsy central motivation. Ferris is a well-heeled high-school kid who has a bedroom kitted out with state-of-the-art gear and loving parents who are working hard to meet his every desire. However, he has a significant lacking in his life, he doesn’t have a car, so he needs to ‘bum’ lifts from friends. To satisfy his desire for wheels plots a day off from school to spend it driving in a Ferrari belonging to his friend’s dad. I know. It’s terrible isn’t it? It’s one of those ethical dilemmas that is only matched by De Sica’s Antonio Ricci stealing a bike so he can get work to feed his child. But, of course, Ferris is not really interested in European socialism:
“I’m not European. I don’t plan on being European. So who gives a crap if they’re socialists? They could be fascist anarchists, it still doesn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car.”
Being both European and a socialist, I should find Ferris annoying, with his first world problems and arrogance, but Hughes gets away with it because Matthew Broderick is so charming and charismatic. From the opening moments when he takes the audience into his confidence and he describes how to avoid school, you are willing to come along on the ride. Some of my favourite moments are those where he turns up the charm and pulls off audacious flim-flams. He manages to get his girlfriend out of school thanks to an elaborate hoax, and have dinner at an exclusive restaurant due to his quick wits and confidence trickery.
Broderick is so good that it is possible to overlook the contribution of some of the other characters to its success. Jeffery Jones is great as the Principle driven crazy by his suspicions about Bueller. Jennifer Grey has the ultimate bitchy resting face as Ferris’s sister who is horrified to see the school beguiled into a ‘Save Ferris’ campaign when rumours of his impending kidney transplant take hold. Alan Ruck as Cameron has a troubled expression that’s a great foil to Broderick’s sure-footed bravado and he looks like a piece of coal is actually up his arse, slowly turning to a diamond. He’s never certain that he should go along. He’s got a bad cold, Ferris treats him badly, and it’s HIS dad’s car:
“My father spent three years restoring this car. It is his love, it is his passion.”
“It is his fault he didn’t lock the garage.”
The tension between the free-wheeling Ferris and the up-tight Cameron is the eternal battle between the id and the ego, the libertine verses the prig, tackling the ultimate question of modernity: how is it possible to be free in a society that demands order through the regime of school, work and the sense of duty towards parents. Ferris triumphs because he is willing to step outside of the hurley burley and find pleasure:
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
There’s a timelessness to his message. It’s a middle-aged man speaking through a teenager. Every time I see the film, it makes me feel great, because its about the struggle for independence and the need to be free (at least once in a while). Ferris’ wisdom is the reason it belongs within the post-Star Wars cannon.
The film is made up of episodes that I’ve given the Dirk’s Five treatment, four good and one dud:
Bueller?… Bueller?… Bueller?
1961 Ferrari 250GT California
Has there been a better use of John Williams’ music for STAR WARS? Not even George Lucas can match the moment when the valet-parking attendant launches this ultimate, classic sports car over a bump in sheer exuberance.
The brilliant-red car is a fetish object (can you hear Yello’s ‘Oh Yeah’ without thinking about it?) throughout the movie. There were only 100 made, so you don’t need to be a car lover to cringe every time Cameron takes a blow at the bumper. Its a symbol of his relationship with his father and the source of his anxieties (the registration plate is NRVOUS). When it reverses through the plate window to crash at the bottom of a ditch, its not just its rarity that makes you bite your knuckle, its the realisation that things are never going to be the same again.
“Pucker up buttercup”
“This is George Peterson!” Cameron takes on the role of Sloane Peterson’s dad to get her out of school to join Ferris on his day off. He says that she needs to attend the funeral of her grandmother. Principle Rooney thinks it’s Ferris so lets rip:
Uh, yeah, sure, no I’d be happy to, yeah you, uh, you you just produce a corpse, and uh, I’ll release Sloane. I wanna see this dead grandmother first hand.
The timing of Jeffrey Jones’ reaction when his secretary tells him that Ferris is on line 2 is comic genius. As is his reaction when he sees Sloane apparently smooching with her ‘father’: “So THAT’s how it is in their family.”
I want one of those machines that you put a floppy disc in and it makes sick noises. He has the best graphic equaliser I’ve ever seen in a movie (not sure that its quite optimised for the acoustics of his room). It’s real pleasure to pause the image and study the posters on his wall too.
The contraption he creates is a fore-runner of Kevin’s devices in HOME ALONE, except they don’t actually look physically possible.
Art Institute of Chicago
I love the moment when they move through the museum in a link with the children, it is such innocent fun and joyous. The scene in the gallery offers a moment of calm meditation in the middle of the city. Chicago features heavily in the film with lurid, bright colours captured by cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (best known for his work on BADLANDS(1973))
The Dream Academy’s cover version of The Smiths’ Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want plays over a steady slide-show of Hopper, Kandinsky, Picasso, Giacometti, Pollock and Mattisse. Most notably Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
Its at this point you realise that there is something to Ferris’ mantra. Stop and look once in a while. This great art could pass you by.
I yell “RAT!”
I know that its a much loved scene, but after the time in the gallery I think this is wrong note in the film. The action transforms into the stuff of musicals with Ferris leading the crowd in a rendition of Twist and Shout. It seems oddly out of place and its the only moment that suddenly dates the film.
The parade scene in EASY RIDER (1969) has a similar effect of unbalancing things: they don’t look like they are part of what’s going on.
He should stick to singing in the shower.