Save Ferris: Bueller’s Day Off remains a very much relatable escapist fantasy
One of my favorite pastimes is digging up critical reviews of movies that are universally considered classics, devouring the words of the sour souls that were oblivious to a beloved film’s greatness.
The Shawshank Redemption, considered to be the greatest movie of all-time by IMDb users, clocks in at 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — meaning nine percent of reviewers didn’t even consider the movie to be “good.” In his review of The Godfather, Stanley Kaufmann wrote in the spring of ‘72 of the “decline of Marlon Brando” — the same Marlon Brando who earned the Academy Award (Best Actor) for that very performance in the year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture.
Good call, Stan.
This spring, I was disappointed to miss out on a very-limited, 30th anniversary re-release of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but I still made it a point to read up on critics’ opinions of the 1986 comedy helmed and penned by John Hughes.
One of them was a post by Alan Siegel for The Atlantic in 2011. The title? Get over ‘Ferris Bueller,’ Everyone.
Siegel found the iconic quotes (e.g. “Life moves pretty fast…”) banal. Though he personally found the plot of the film somewhat relatable, he didn’t believe it was as universal as it’s considered to be because not every kid “had the means to share” such a fantasy — specifically mentioning the Ferrari, as though not having a good friend whose dad owned a swanky sports car was some sort of deal-breaker for anyone in the audience who might be envisioning their ideal adventure after skirting their responsibilities and playing hooky.
Worst of all, Siegel puts down the film because of its lack of realism, comparing Ferris to the more grounded, problem-burdened characters in Hughes’ other films (including the revered detention crew in The Breakfast Club), while also bemoaning the fact that just about everything goes Bueller’s way in the movie from start to finish.
There’s where Siegel completely misses the point.
Ferris Bueller is, at its heart, a fantasy, and never pretends to be anything but. Yes, it completely takes place in the real world, but it’s also full of absurdities and entirely self-aware. Anyone who would actually expect Ferris to avoid detection throughout a dozen close calls — his mom peering in at the mannequin in his bed, Mr. Rooney narrowly missing a shot of Ferris, Cameron and Sloane on TV at the Cubs’ game, the cab scene outside the French restaurant, the fucking parade for crying out loud — is a fool.
It’s OK to point that out. It’s silly to be angry about it and not enjoy the ride.
It’s a ride on which we meet some pretty unforgettable small characters: Ed Rooney’s secretary, Grace (“Well with your bad knee, Ed, you shouldn’t throw anybody.”), the maitre D’ at Chez Quis (“I’m suggesting that you leave before I have to get snooty.”), and even the pizza guy who burns an oblivious Rooney when the principal asks who’s winning a baseball game tied 0-0 (“The Bears.”).
And how can you not enjoy Ferris’ fellow school-skippers and closest compatriots? His best pal, Cameron Frye — with all of his doubt and neuroses — is actually the most relatable of the trio, weighed down by real-life pressures the film doesn’t waste time beating us over the head with. Sure, it takes a little background info provided by Ferris to set Cameron up, but Hughes manages to communicate Cameron’s angst without showing him pouring through unfinished college applications or having a presumably-cold interaction with his uptight parents. Cameron was a hesitant passenger on Ferris’ tour of Chicago, and that led to the payoff of him deciding to finally be in the driver’s seat of his own life.
Ferris’ girlfriend, Sloane Peterson, might not have undergone a Cameron-like transformation, but her cunning ways in hairy situations and timely coyness made it pretty clear why she was so smitten with the title character.
Much like Sloane, we the audience recognize that Ferris Bueller is selfish, a masterful manipulator and a thorn in the side of many people around him. “You knew what you were doing when you woke up this morning, didn’t you?” Sloane asks Ferris before his dash home.
Ferris Bueller moved a lot of pieces on the chessboard around in order for everything to go his way, to have the day he wanted. He lied, he cheated, he stole (“borrowed” in the case of the 1961 Ferrari GT). But the charming son of a bitch, with his swagger and through-the-roof likability, made it one helluva day for those involved — including us, the audience, reveling in one of the main purposes of cinema: escapism.
That was the whole point. If you spent less time waiting for reality to come crashing down and just — ahem — stopped to look around once in awhile, you wouldn’t have missed it.