Reel Classic: ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’

ferries buellers day off movie

“Bueller…? Bueller…? Bueller….?”

This line from one of the most loved and funniest movies from the ‘80s has become so iconic that it is arguably the most oft quoted movie line ever. You can thank actor Ben Stein for that; he nailed the deadpan, adenoid dullness of the economics teacher so well it became a legend. And that is just one line and one character from the multitude of wonders in the 1986 classic, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Written, produced and directed by ‘80s wunderkind John Hughes (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Home Alone), Ferris is choc-a-block full of vibrant characters, insane situations and laugh-out-loud lines.

ferries buellers day off - charlie sheen

For the few on the planet who are unfamiliar with the story, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off chronicles one day in the life of a rather self-indulgent teen, who goes to extreme and hilarious lengths to pull off a sick day from school and take his girlfriend and best friend on a zany whirlwind of activity through Chicago. From visiting an art gallery to watching a baseball game, from impersonating the “sausage king of Chicago” at a snotty (snotty? snooty?) restaurant to lip syncing Twist and Shout in a city parade, Ferris is a joy ride from start to finish. It is so popular that its recent 30-year anniversary inspired “Ferris Fest,” a three-day event called that recreated key events in the movie.

The characters are brilliant and the acting spot on. Matthew Broderick played Ferris with all the joie de vivre the character required, and then some. Alan Ruck as Ferris’ best friend, hypochondriac and general wet blanket, Cameron, is fantastic – remember the scene by the pool, when Cameron is catatonic? Jennifer Grey (pre nose job) as Ferris’ long-suffering, hard-done-by sister Jeanie delivers probably the best performance of her career – and I am including Dirty Dancing. And Charlie Sheen pops up in one of the best cameos ever on screen as the juvenile delinquent in the police station who briefly lights Jeanie’s fire.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

But debatably the best character is the principal, Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), whose obsessive stalking of Ferris has an almost religious fervour. Rooney’s ultimate humiliation on the school bus, with a nerdy girl offering him a “real warm and soft” gummi bear to the tune of Yellow’s “Oh Yeah,” has to be one of the best scenes Hughes ever wrote.

Hughes’ razor-sharp observations come to life in the character of Ferris, and indeed, the whole movie. Ferris narrates his stream of consciousness to the camera and reveals his personal philosophies on life (“Not that I condone fascism, or any –ism for that matter. –Isms, in my opinion, are not good”) to his strategies on how to fool his parents and dodge school (“The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands…it’s a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school”)

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Hughes’ ‘day in the life’ of an everyday teenager resonated strongly with audiences, and was a philosophy he adopted in just about all of his movies. The really great ones are about ordinary people and what makes them tick – their dreams, their quirkiness and their neuroses (think of the five uniquely drawn characters in The Breakfast Club). Hughes respected teenagers, and this shines through in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which, although a comedy, has deeply soul-searching moments. Recall the touching moment when Cameron finally faces his fears about his father with the Ferrari? We love these characters because of their flaws – not in spite of them.

As Hughes stated: “I happen to go for the simplest, most ordinary things. The extraordinary doesn’t interest me. I’m not interested in psychotics. I’m interested in the person you don’t expect to have a story. I like Everyman.”