Ferris Bueller is a character who is easy to hate. His increasingly resentful sister Jeanie (Dirty Dancing‘s Jennifer Grey) is definitely in that camp. Why should he be able to bunk off high school and have, what turns out to be, one of the greatest, most eventful days of his relatively short life? The answer is he shouldn’t. In a just world, he would be sat amongst his classmates being utterly bored to tears learning about the evolution of Reaganomics. However, we are a sucker for the cinematic chancer, and as much there might also be pleasure derived from seeing that kind of figure taking a fall, there’s greater delight in witnessing him pulling off a seemingly impossible coup.
And that is where the huge appeal of this ostensibly unlikable character lies. A large part of the fun here is witnessing Ferris’ increasingly resourceful and sophisticated ways of avoiding being caught – from the rigging up of a dummy in his bed – complete with snore sound effects and a pulley system which replicates movement – to the wonderfully imaginative fake phone calls and answering machine messages created, all designed to throw his parents, sister and sceptical high-school Dean, Ed Rooney, off the scent. Released in 1986, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a huge hit with critics and audiences alike, turning lead Matthew Broderick into a major Hollywood player and proving that not everyone in that capitalist era was intent in climbing the ladder to success – some toiled equally as hard to ensure that they were free from responsibility and drudgery.
The film’s premise is a simple one – middle class kid from the suburbs decides to ditch school for the day, and instead hooks up with best mate and girlfriend for a day of fine dining, cultural sightseeing and partying in downtown Chicago – but it’s mined for maximum laughs and an alluring sense of mischief and adventure. Director John Hughes’ previous examinations into the thrills and heartaches found in teenage life – including the likes of The Breakfast Club, Pretty and Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful – find their way into this film via Ferris’ buddy Cameron (played by the then 30 year-old Alan Ruck). He’s a hypochondriac, doom-laden and generally pessimistic soul, and as such, is the perfect counterbalance to the laid-back, devil-may-care attitude of his friend.
There are many moments throughout the film when Ferris’ scheming threatens to fall spectacularly apart, but it’s towards the end, with the day off almost wrapped up, where it looks to be curtains for the trio’s frivolities. It occurs when Cameron’s father’s beloved and pristine convertible 1961 Ferrari 250 GT is sent crashing through the window of austere glass and steel family home and into the ravine below. This is where Ferris steps up – and further endears himself to the audience – by insisting he “takes the heat” over the incident. But it’s Cameron, initially all bent out of shape, who decides to take sole responsibility, his day off having helped inspire a new positivity and optimism in himself and towards his relationship with his folks.
It’s a lovely heartfelt moment which could easily upended the film right there, were it not for Hughes’ empathic ability to tap into that familiar and emotionally fraught teenage/parental divide with his writing, and Ruck’s sincerity in his delivery. Ferris is free to hightail it home in a breath-taking race against time sequence – recently paid vigorous homage to in Spider-Man: Homecoming, of all places – and make it to his ‘sickbed’ before his parents get home from work.
Even his own sister eventually see’s the error of her ways and helps him out of another particularly sticky situation before his final dash for safety. 30-plus years later, it’s still easy to be on Ferris Bueller’s side, even though today he’d probably be a stinking rich, entitled CEO who wouldn’t require an elaborate ruse in order to take any day off.
Watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on CHILI