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Grade: AFerris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Director: John Hughes

Stars: Mathew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jeffrey Jones

Release Company: Paramount

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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John Hughes: Ferris Bueller's Day Off


Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte, c.1886
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte, c.1886 Art Print
Seurat, Georges
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Critics' Choice Video



"Ferris Bueller, you're my hero!"

—Cameron Frye

Ferris Bueller represents an ideal that many of us wanted to emulate when we were in high school (and perhaps beyond). He is the master psychologist who uses people like putty and gets whatever he wants, while almost everyone likes him. As the school secretary points out, "The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads—they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude." Bueller is probably a successful businessman today.

Director John Hughes, the guru of adolescent films like 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club, spreads his gospel of free-thinking teens who outwit numbskull adults in his 1986 film, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It's a fun film that has a message (like all of Hughes' films) and also serves as a promotional tour guide of Chicago.

We have a high school senior who decides to take a day off by feigning illness. Judging by the reactions of his parents and sister—and by the elaborate mechanisms Ferris (Mathew Broderick) devises to fake out the school officials—this has occurred before.

Broderick was born to play this playfully rebellious character, so much so that Ferris has become a teen icon in the past two decades. Broderick accomplishes much of this with body language that exudes a charming autonomous confidence, and he often addresses us directly: "A person should not believe in an ism; he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon: 'I don't believe in Beatles—I just believe in me.' A good point there. Of course, he was the Walrus. I could be the Walrus; I'd still have to bum rides off of people."

Ferris may not be the nicest guy at school, but he's the one who makes things happen. While his main goal may well be to have a day of fun and get with his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara), he offers that his primary mission is to play therapist for his buddy, Cameron (Alan Ruck), who is"so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you would have a diamond." Poor Cameron is chronically sick and continually attempts to please others, especially his parents.

Ferris worries that his friend Cameron will never be happy and will be taken advantage of the rest of his life because, "You can't respect somebody who kisses your ass." At the same time Ferris is not above using Cameron to get the wheels he needs, so the trio proceeds to tour Chicago in the Frye Ferarri.

What a day it turns out to be! The teens tour the Sears Tower, con a fancy restaurant into luncheon seats, see a Cubs game, and spend time looking at Picassos, Monets, and other great masterpieces at the Art Institute. As if that's not enough, they participate in a German-American parade and serenade the crowd with Wayne Newton's "Danke Schoen" and get the downtown loop to join in with a rousing "Twist and Shout" dance number.

Meanwhile, we have obsessive Dean Edward R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones of Amadeus) attempting to trap Bueller in a number of humorous situations. (These continue after the end credits roll, so don't turn off the tape early.) Why is this man so obsessed? It's a matter of control; Ferris represents a generation of adolescents who are too wise to submit passively to the system. ("What's so terrible about a kid like Ferris is he gives good kids bad ideas. Last thing I need in my career is fifteen hundred Ferris Bueller disciples running around these halls.")

Bueller ends up serving as a therapist of sorts to Cameron, and there's a touching scene at the end that gives the film it's socially redeeming value. There's even a poignant moment in the art museum that leads up to this, as Cameron stares deeply into a Seurat painting until the little girl holding her mother's hand becomes a blur.

Well enough of that. There’s no need to delve deeply into Ferris Bueller’s rebellious philosophy of autonomy. Take this as a joy ride, relax, and enjoy the Chicago scenery. Sometimes it’s enough to just have fun with a film.

The DVD has a commentary by director John Hughes. While it doesn’t provide a great deal of depth (come on, it’s a lightweight comedy) it does give a number of interesting background trivia notes. A few samples:

  1. The opening shot of the Bueller home is actually shot in Long Beach, California. This distresses Hughes a little, since he wanted this film to be a tribute to his native Chicago.
  2. The Wrigley Field scene is shot on location there only because the Cubs were in town on the day of the shooting; otherwise it would have been shot at the old Comiskey Park, because John Hughes is a White Sox fan.
  3. The opening scene in Ferris’ bedroom has two sets of real lovers in real life: The actors playing the mother and father got married after shooting the film, while Broderick was engaged to Jennifer Grey.
  4. The two tourists in the Sears Tower scene are actual visiting German tourists who are in town for the parade that we later see.
  5. The paintings selected for inclusion in the Art Institute scenes were chosen because they are favorites of Hughes, who spent many hours at the Institute while growing up.

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