What Makes "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" The Perfect 80's Movie?
There are few movies that have made a larger impact on American culture than John Hughes' 1986 masterpiece, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. From the famous parade scene, to the quotable lines, to of course the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California, it's hard to think of another film that has stood the test of time quite like it. But what is it about Ferris Bueller's Day Off that makes it so iconic and so hard to dislike?
I'm a current film school student, I've seen over 2,300 movies in my lifetime and despite that larger frame of reference, Ferris Bueller's Day Off remains one of the few movies I would call absolutely flawless. I legitimately cannot think of anything I would add or remove from it. It's a film that's rewarding upon first and repeated watches and is probably one of ten movies I can never see myself getting tired of. Each element of the movie from the screenplay to the soundtrack to the performances to the endlessly quotable one-liners make it the ultimate feel-good movie, but it isn't just meaningless fluff. Legendary critic, Roger Ebert, famously described Ferris Bueller's Day Off as "one of the most innocent movies in a long time." And while I would also commend the film for its positive, fun nature, there is so much more to Ferris Bueller than just an enjoyable family movie.
It has been nearly four decades since Ferris Bueller first hit American theaters and it still manages to be a mainstay in high school yearbooks everywhere. Any time a senior quote is offered, at least one person is bound to choose "life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." It's one of the few movies that impresses both the casual moviegoer and the pretentious film student. I suppose its ability to unite is what makes it such a pillar of American culture 36 years later. A lot of that memorability is due to Matthew Broderick's charismatic line delivery, he somehow makes the titular character appear charming in a role that would make most actors appear sleazy and unlikeable. And the fourth wall breaks add so much to the lighthearted tone of the film. Speaking of performances, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about everyone's favorite character, Cameron Frye and the exceptional performance given by Alan Ruck, who somehow looked 18 at nearly 30 years of age. But we'll get back to him later...
What makes Ferris Bueller's Day Off so captivating is that it encapsulates the dream day of any modern high school student. Being the most popular kid in school, taking a luxury car into the city, eating at fancy restaurants, catching a foul ball at a baseball game, all while blowing off school with your two best friends. The film also serves as Hughes' "love letter to Chicago" While filming he made it his mission to showcase as much of the city as he could "Not just in the architecture and landscape, but the spirit." The movie also subsequently captures the essence of the 80's, from the clothes to the music to the references to even the way the characters interact. Nobody can truly capture the 80's quite like John Hughes.
According to the director, "Chicago is what I am." One of the best and most overlooked aspects of Ferris Bueller's Day Off is how personal it is to John Hughes, serving as a semi-autobiography and homage to his youth. Cameron wears Gordie Howe's real jersey, who happened to be Hughes' childhood hero. Hughes decided to shoot a scene at the Art Institute of Chicago because it serves as his "place of refuge" during his teenage years. Even the soundtrack has a unique personal touch, "Danke Shoen" by Wayne Newton was described as the "most awful song of my youth" by Hughes after years of hearing it daily in high school German class. There's also a heavy presence of Hughes' favorite band, The Beatles, with multiple John Lennon references being made in the script and of course the famous "Twist and Shout" parade scene. It's insane how much the music works, what other movie could have "Danke Shoen" and "Oh Yeah" by Yello on the same soundtrack?
Surrealist director, David Lynch once compared his films to a duck, famously saying that the "eye of the duck is a certain scene, this jewel, that if it's there, it's absolutely beautiful. It's just fantastic." Ferris Bueller's Day Off has a duck's eye, but it's not a scene, it's a character, and that character is Cameron Frye. Everyone's favorite character, the one who keeps the movie from being 100 minutes of innocent fluff.
It can be argued that Cameron is the real main character of Ferris Bueller's Day Off as opposed to the titular character because he is the only one who goes through any sort of character development. The real Cameron Frye is actually Hughes' childhood friend whom he described as "lost," with a neglectful family and someone who would often make up illnesses and only feel relaxed when he actually became sick. Sound familiar? When we first meet Cameron Frye he is lying, miserable in bed with a made up illness. Completely disheartened by his relationship with his father, and clearly uncomfortable in his own skin. He's a pushover, a doormat, someone who can't even manage to stop his best friend from stealing his dad's prized car. However by the time the credits roll, he's a completely different person. Ferris might be the titular character however he is exactly the same from start to finish. He doesn't learn anything, he is adored by the whole town, and he gets away with every stunt he pulls, a perfect foil for Cameron. In terms of the "duck's eye" scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, look no further than Cameron's last moment of screen time where he destroys his father's prized Ferrari beyond repair, wrecking his garage in the process. When Ferris offers to take the heat for this, Cameron refuses, saying that him and his dad will just "have a little chat" and for the first time in the entire movie, he appears comfortable in his own skin. Considering that a few scenes earlier he was catatonic, this change is incredible. In all my years watching movies, this is one of the most satisfying instances of character development I've seen. While he may not be the charismatic unpredictable, titular character, I truly believe Cameron is the best written character in the film and is a huge part of why Ferris Bueller's Day Off is the perfect 80's movie.
In my opinion, nobody truly captured the 80's like John Hughes. From The Breakfast Club, to Sixteen Candles, to Pretty In Pink, to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, it's difficult to name a more prolific and influential director from that era. However, in terms of sheer enjoyability and iconic moments, no other film has left the same kind of impact on American culture like Ferris Bueller's Day Off. If you haven't seen it in a while, I strongly encourage you to revisit it, and just remember..."life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."