“Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club” may get more attention, but “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is John Hughes’ finest hour. His trademarks are all here: the humor, the drama, the so-hip-it-hurts pop soundtrack, but this time Hughes elevates everything with the most spectacular editing that any Hughes movie has ever seen. Along with being a big love letter to the great city of Chicago, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” as Ben Stein astutely observes in the bonus material, is a testament to man’s need to be free, and that is why it has endured as a comedy classic.
Matthew Broderick is the title character, a wildly popular free spirit who decides, on a beautiful spring day, to call in sick and skip school. He calls his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), who’s home (and actually sick), and together they set up a ruse to get Ferris’ girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) out of school. The principal, Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), knows that Ferris is orchestrating the whole thing, and sets off to prove Ferris is skipping school, so he can hold him back another year. What Rooney doesn’t realize is that he has an ally in his quest to knock Ferris off of his pedestal: Jeanie Bueller (Jennifer Grey), Ferris’ mean-as-a-snake sister.
The setup, of course, is preposterous; no parent would fall for the snoring soundtrack on the stereo, or the rolling mannequin that’s tripped by a rope connected to the bedroom door. But the movie isn’t about whether Ferris gets caught. Sure, they throw a whole mess of complications at him in order to make a case for the possibility of Ferris getting caught. But you know all along that Ferris will have a great day, skate away scot-free, and hopefully teach Cameron a thing or two about seizing the day.
I lived in Chicago for 10 years, and I can safely say that there is no way in hell that Ferris, Cameron and Sloane can visit the Sears Tower, dine at Chez Luis (which no longer exists), catch a foul ball at Wrigley Field (hecanthithecanthithecanthit sa-wiiinnnng, batta), sing the Beatles in a downtown parade (which, for the record, is one of the greatest musical sequences in movie history), and join a grade school field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago all in the same day. And that doesn’t include the drive home, the time spent in the pool, and the incident with the Ferrari at Cameron’s house. That’s a good three or four days’ worth of stuff, but again, this movie isn’t about what’s real. It’s about the fantasy, the idea that you could have a day as perfect as theirs and get away with it. It’s also about the fantasy that we could ever be as composed, confident, and as likable as Ferris at any stage in our lives, never mind as a high school senior.
The editing that I referenced earlier has several shining moments, but perhaps the best bit is when Jeanie and Rooney are both in the Bueller household, each thinking they were catching Ferris. Jeanie, terrified at the sight of this strange man who isn’t Ferris, kicks Rooney three times in the face, and is around the corner, up the stairs, and locked in her bedroom before Rooney comes to rest on the kitchen floor. It’s truly a thing of beauty. The scene in the art museum is another high point, where the introverted Cameron identifies with the faceless girl in a painting.
Broderick was a pitch-perfect choice to play Ferris, smart and playful but not so reckless that he comes off as smarmy or mean-spirited. You can see why everybody likes Ferris; he’s friendly to everyone he meets, even letting the “snooty” maitre’d at Chez Luis off easy after snagging Abe Froman’s table. Jones is a good foil as Principal Rooney, a disregarded, not terribly bright civil servant that is bound and determined to knock someone more fortunate down a peg. Edie McClurg provides some vital support as Rooney’s secretary Grace (the bit where she pulls four pencils out of her hair is money), and let’s not forget Ben Stein, whose cameo as Ferris’ history teacher literally turned the former speechwriter into a star.
Legend has it that Hughes wrote “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” in six days, in order to get the movie greenlit before a writer’s strike threatened to shut down Hollywood. That seems unfathomable today, that someone could create a movie so rich, and so funny, in so little time. The movie has a voice that most movies today just don’t even bother to create, an identity that allows it to stand apart and above nearly everything around it. Save “Ferris,” indeed.(5 / 5)