The is one of two reviews of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in what we’re calling our Battling Buellers posts in anticipation of this Wednesday’s re-release in Ocean City.
Few can deny that 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a classic, and if you don’t, its likely you view the film as the miscreant-truant of cinema or as the sibling-who-gets-away-with-everything of film. As with any film as popular are Ferris Bueller there are those who take issue with it, some for its whiteness, some for a protagonist who can fairly be described as unlikable. But it’s clear that despite those dissenters, the film still enjoys a wide popularity nearly 30 years after its release, perhaps surpassing other huge works of the Hughes canon. To me the reasons for this are clear: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is an exemplary hangout movie with a magnificent script, great characters, and the ability to endure after numerous viewings.
In preparation for this review I viewed the film for what was probably my ten millionth time (give or take) and what is important to note is that I do not consider myself an above average fan. Whether you love this movie or just like it, if you’re a Gen Xer or a Millenial, you’ve probably seen it that many times without meaning to. That kind of ubiquity is in no small part due to Hughes’s script, which is able to take the silly fun and poignant coming of age themes while Weird Science while leaving the sophomoric humor, and also the teen melodrama of The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. I do not mean to put those films down, but Ferris Bueller is simply able to strike a balance that those otherwise fine films cannot. To emerge from my digression, what I found on my ten millionth viewing is that the film continues to charm me, from my favorite bits like, “They bought it.” To lines I hadn’t noticed before, “I want to go to a good college so I can lead a fruitful life.” Hughes’ clever dialogue and excellent characterizations hold up better than they have any right to.
Speaking of characterizations, let’s talk about Ferris, who is one of those characters that you simply cannot imagine anyone else for the role but Mathew Broderick. It’s a shame no other film has been able to use the actors talents quite as effectively, because he is spot on in this. Hughes presents a character who is a liar, a cheater, a law breaker with little reverence for education or the feelings of others, but because of his roguish characterization and Broderick’s boyish smirking, we love him. He is a snobby brat and a charming rapscallion; a selfish truant and a charming rogue; a privileged punk and a mythological trickster god. If there is something I don’t like about Ferris, is that he has pretty much no emotional journey or change in the film. There is obvious error in the characters ways, but the film refuses to acknowledge them. There is no lesson to learn and no real threat of failure throughout the film. But these concerns are mitigated largely by the film’s truly dynamic character: Cameron.
There’s been a lot of attention paid to Cameron in discussions of the film, and it’s no wonder why. Cameron begins the film as Ferris’s foil and partner in crime, a brow-beaten best friend who is dragged into Ferris’s day off and spends most of the film objecting. But Cameron is the character who has stuff to work out, who is in desperate need of change. Without Cameron, the film would be watching a winner always win. Not the height of drama. Cameron provides the film’s emotional core. And, in Ferris’s offer to take the blame for the destruction of Cameron’s Father’s car, Cameron’s sublot is what gives Ferris is one moment of goodliness and humanity. By way of this I can say that film might be elevated by giving Cameron a larger, perhaps even POV role. Many are fond of the Ferris Bueller/Fight Club theory which posits Ferris as Cameron’s psychological manifestation of the man he wishes he could be a la Tyler Durden. Although I view this theory as bullhockey, it’s a fun exercise to consider it. Instead, I’d like to see something more in line with The Great Gatsby, wherein we view the magnificence and the flaws of Bueller through the perspective of the more grounded Cameron, as we see Gatsby through Nick. Regardless of how the film might be improved in this sense, Alan Ruck’s performance as Cameron and the role the character plays in the film as it is excellent.
Mia Sara’s performance and Sloan is fine. Her characters presence in the film is fairly inconsequential but does a nice job of rounding out the threesome and does add much to the dynamic of our heroes. Beyond this, Jennifer Grey and Jeffery Jones, as Ferris’s annoyed sister and his buffoonish principal respectively, are great characters and great performances. Through them, the film delivers a myriad of complications that threaten to put an end to Ferris’s Day Off, and though these complications could be a bit more dire or threatening, they still add a tension that keeps the story going.
Perhaps the best thing that I can say for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is that it manages to be a film that is undeniably 80s, while not letting this detract from it. The film could easily be remade in the modern era, but of course it should not. Not only is it a classic work of a beloved auteur, but there is no reason to modernize it, because despite being 30 years old, it remains timely, or perhaps timeless. The characters and situations are iconic and though some improvements could be made, I struggle to think of any that need to be made. You can (and should) see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on the big screen at Fox Sun & Surf Cinema on 5/18 at 7:00 pm