The Film: 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986), Dir. John Hughes
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara and Jeffrey Jones.
Why I Haven't Seen It Until Now: I believe I've talked about my tumultuous relationship with films from the 1980s before in this column. To my unknowing eyes, nothing screams pure '80s "Arrrgh" (the actual scientific term, by the way) quite like 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off.'
Pre-Viewing Assumptions: As you may have guessed by the mere existence of this column, I'm one of the younger members of the Cinematical team. I'm too young for 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' to have hit when it probably would've truly mattered -- heck, I'm too young for John Hughes to have made much of an impact on my existence. Although I'm a big 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' fan, his teen-centric films have never clicked with me in any substantial way. They feel like they're addressing a very specific generation with their own very specific problems, problems that I can't muster up too much enthusiasm for.
At the risk of sounding blasphemous, 'The Breakfast Club' rubs me the wrong way, so much so that I found myself agreeing with Principal Vernon more than sympathizing with the kids. Even when I was a teenager, I knew teens were selfish, obnoxious, whiny little jerks who only grow up when reality slaps them in their smug little faces (apologies to any teenage readers, I'm sure you're the exception that proves the rule) and while Hughes may be interested in the heart and soul of the under 18 crowd, I'm not. Maybe I just had an unnaturally happy childhood. Who knows? Maybe the problems of these upper middle class, white suburban kids feel like insignificant drops in a bucket overflowing with bigger issues.
Well, how's that for a big boatload of useless personal baggage to drop on a supposedly fun little comedy? And while I'm being grumpy and disparaging about a movie I haven't even watched yet, I'll link you over to this piece by the whip-smart CHUD writer Damon Houx, who argues that 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' is one of the worst films ever made and that the titular character is a full-tilt sociopath. As part of the self-imposed blackout I go into before watching a film for this column, I haven't re-read it, but it's stuck with me long enough to remember to link it here (he also apparently talks about the same subject on the first episode of Badass Digest's new podcast, which I also haven't listened to yet for the same reasons).
So I'm mad at John Hughes because he didn't make movies for me and an article on the internet tells me that Ferris Bueller is evil, so surely it must be true. Now get off my lawn. Grrr.
Still, enough people have told me that it's one their favorite films (including a bunch of you readers in the comments under a previous column), therefore compelling me to see it so I can finally have an opinion on this thing. What do I know about the film that isn't me spewing inarticulate bile and quoting other writers? I know it's about the fourth-wall breaking Ferris, who skips school one day and takes his buddy Cameron on some sort of adventure. I know Jeffrey Jones is in it. I know there's a scene where Ben Stein says "Bueller" over and over again that's become the go-to joke for unfunny people to repeat whenever a moment of silence invades their life. I bet it has a synth soundtrack. I bet it's aged terribly. I bet it's '80s in the worst of ways.
Bah, now I'm gone and gotten myself irked. Maybe a viewing of 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' will cheer me up.
Post-Viewing Reaction: Before I began writing this sentence, I went and did something I rarely ever do during when I'm writing this column -- I re-read my "Pre-Viewing Assumption" section. I did so to make sure my reaction to 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' wasn't a product of my admittedly nasty diatribe against 'The Breakfast Club.' I needed to make sure my feelings were based purely on the film itself and not something I was prepared to say even before I had watched the film.
So I say this knowing that many of you out there love this film and hold it close to your hearts (and yes, I do feel a little bad about it): 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' is a frustrating movie with a lead character who needs a kick in the groin more desperately than any other cinematic character has needed a kick in the groin before. While I certainly won't label Ferris Bueller as a sociopath like some of the film's detractors have, he is undeniably a little sh*t. A smug, self-satisfied, manipulative little sh*t who exploits his friends and family to always get his way, usually through a combination of lies and upper-class self-entitlement.
You may see an awesome, cool teenager taking a day off and outsmarting his slimy principal with the help of his pals, but I see a narcissistic douchebag manipulating a slightly overzealous man who's just desperately trying to do his job while endangering the reputation of his best friend (who Ferris only seems to keep around because he has a car). Ferris Bueller, literally too cool for school, a privileged rich kid whose go-to action for every situation is to rub his superiority in the face of everyone he meets. To make matters worse, the film rewards his nasty behavior, allowing him to be victorious while his sister (Jennifer Grey) gets punished for being a rational human being pushed to the edge by her lying, deceitful sibling. It's easy to imagine the grown up Ferris Bueller working on Wall Street, riding a golden parachute all the way to bank while thousands of people lose their jobs, laughing snidely all the way. What a hateful character.
Are mine and John Hughes' definitions of "cool" that different? Is it a generational thing? I thought I was part of a selfish generation, but if Ferris Bueller is any indication, the 1980s ideal has my modern hipster brethren beaten by a mile.
With that said -- 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' is a pretty good movie. Seriously. It's fast and funny and Ferris is balanced by a genuinely likable supporting cast. Heck, it's aged remarkably well, too and while the fashions and soundtrack make sure you constantly know what year it is, the movie is loose and fun enough to work beyond its time.
Much of the damage done by Bueller's character is rectified by Alan Ruck's performance as Cameron, the long-suffering, highly stressed best friend. In the years since this film, Ruck has been regulated to "that guy" status, popping up as comic relief in blockbusters or playing oddballs in sitcoms, but his angsty, underplayed work here showcase that he could have been a leading man. For me, he's the most relatable of Hughes' stable of tormented teens and while Ferris is running around Chicago being an awful human being who never learns any lessons, Cameron is growing up, becoming his own person and taking charge of his life. The film seems to think Cameron would benefit from being more like Ferris -- I like to think that Cameron cut ties with Ferris, never spoke to him again and lived happily ever after.
Equally good is Jeffrey Jones as Principal Rooney, who spends the entire film trying to prove that Ferris is a liar and cheat (and of course, he's the villain of the movie, but whatever). Although personal scandals have all but ended his career in recent years, there was a time when Jones was your go-to guy for understated buffoonery. His work in films like 'Beetle Juice,' 'Amadeus' and 'Ed Wood' is superb, but this is probably his crowning role. Any actor can fall in mud, split the back of his pants and get chased by a vicious dog for laughs, but only Jones could bring true, awkward sadness to the final scene of the film, where the broken, defeated principal is forced to accept a ride on a crowded school bus.
There's the frustrating part of it all. So much of 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' is fun and charming that it's a shame that Ferris Bueller himself is so incredibly unlikeable. Every time I found myself involved in Cameron's emotional plight, every time Rooney hit another obstacle, Ferris' smug face had to appear to remind me that this was his movie. I kinda' like his movie, but I definitely hate Ferris Bueller.
Next Week's Column: Going by your votes last week, the next entry will be Stephen Soderbergh's indie classic 'Sex, Lies and Videotape.' The entry after that is undecided, but that's where you come in! Pick your choice from the selection below and vote for what I should watch next in the comments section (I'll also accept votes you send my way on Twitter).
'On the Waterfront'
'La Dolce Vita'
'High Plains Drifter'/'Pale Rider'/'The Outlaw Josey Wales' (Triple Feature)
'Return to Oz'
'The 39 Steps'
'The Sound of Music'
'Rebel Without a Cause'
'A Matter of Life and Death'
'Bride of Frankenstein'
'The Monster Squad'
'Colossus: The Forbin Project'
'A Boy and His Dog'
'The Thing From Another World'