Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Still Kinda Ify
by Robert Mishou
Here is the third installment of the John Hughes Big Five. If you remember, I am rewatching these films and comparing my present view of the film to what I thought when I first saw them when I was in high school. Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club have been covered, leaving Hughes third high school film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off up next.
I clearly remember being excited to see Hughes latest film in the theater with my best friends. The three of us waited in a long line, full of excitement, ready to see Matthew Broderick (who we loved in War Games). I feel a need to apologize to all of those Ferris fans out there – I did not like this movie when I first saw it in 1986. I know, I know, and I do not expect this to be a popular view, but I am striving for honesty in all of my looks back to the ‘80s.
As I have mentioned before, I am an extremely happy, eager-to-go-work high school English teacher. I love working with teens everyday and I love helping them become better readers and writers and preparing them for college. I decided to become an English teacher during my sophomore year of high school. I think I am hard wired to really like school; I have always enjoyed and still do. This is going to sound like a bit of a fib, but I never missed school, never got a detention, and never got sent to the principal’s office. I got along great with most of my teachers and love going to school every day. Call me weird if you want, but it is in my bones. This is most likely the reason I did not like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off very much. I was nothing like Ferris and I could not understand (or accept) his NOT wanting to be at school. Because of this I did not like his antics and I refused to relate to any of the characters, nor did I want to. About half way through the film I started to purposefully look for things not to like about it. I did not hate the film, but I felt it represented things so unlike me that tried not to like it. My view of Hughes had taken a serious hit – after loving Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club how could he do this to me? Come on, John, don’t disappoint me like this – please!
I’ve thought long and hard about this. I’ve watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off a few times before even attempting to write this. Have I mentioned that I’ve thought long and hard about this? The things I did not like about the movie then, I still do not like now. Ferris is a superficial, dishonest character for whom I cannot – and will not – feel any sort of sympathy. He is manipulative and barely feigns any sort of real interest in Sloane or Cameron. He does not seem to really even care about them until it is almost too late. So long as he is saved, no one else really matters.
But wait. I have found something redeemable, something that saved the movie for me this time. In fact, I am not sure how I missed this years ago – color me embarrassed.
Cameron (played by Alan Ruck) saves this film.
I do not care if he looks old enough to be a college graduate. I do not care if he is from a rich family and has no financial struggles. I do care about him. As little as a I care about the fate of the almighty Ferris, I am completely drawn in by Cameron’s struggles. We never see Cameron’s parents. . . because they are not involved with his life. The movie cannot be called Cameron’s Day Off because this implies that someone cares about him. As Ferris devises clever ways to avoid parental detection, Cameron only wishes someone would pay some sort of positive attention to him. Cameron seems forced to follow Ferris’s silly whims because at least Ferris pays attention to him. Yes, Cameron’s house is huge, as is the glass structure that houses the really, really expensive car are kept in it, but this can never be a substitute for a concerned family. In essence, despite the presence of Sloane and Ferris, Cameron is utterly alone.
In an early scene, Ferris call up a hypochondriac Cameron, seemingly showing concern. Then Ferris explains that he is taking a day off and so should he. The purpose quickly turns selfish when Ferris says, “I’m sorry to hear that, now come over here and pick me up”. While Ferris feigns interest in Cameron’s well being, it quickly turns into self centered concern to be sure that someone else is complicit with his skipping school. Is this what is best for Cameron? Maybe, but it is clearly what is best for Ferris’s desires. Now, Ferris does express some concern for Cameron’s future, worried about how his college roommate-to-be will view him. I do sense that Ferris is a little worried about Cameron, but is clearly unable to show it in a purposeful manner. Ferris’s selfish concerns surface again almost immediately. When cajoling Cameron and trying desperately to get him st skip school with him, Ferris says, “Cameron, this is my ninth sick day, if I get caught, I won’t graduate.”
We all know that Ferris is successful and gets Cameron to skip school with him. Despite knowing how precious that expensive car is to Mr. Frye, Ferris talks Cameron into letting them take the fancy and really expensive red sports car. Yes, Cameron’s father is clearly hung up on material possessions to help show his worth and, while that may be wrong, Ferris forces Cameron into doing something that would make matters at home even worse. I know absolutely nothing about cars, but even in high school I knew you could not drive backwards to get the miles off. On the way home from a great day in Chicago – a part of the film I really enjoyed, Ferris glances at the odometer and asks Cameron how many miles the car had when the left. True to Cameron’s fearful nature he says, “A hundred and twenty-six and halfway between three and four tenths.” As the audience is shown the odometer, we see that it now reads, “Three hundred – one and seven tenths.” Ferris, having a complete understanding of Cameron’s life and fears, (once again) breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience, “Here’s where Cameron goes berserk.” Naturally he does. The thing I struggle with is that Ferris, agree with it or not, fully understands the home life that Cameron is daily faced with and still insists on him to take this enormous risk. Cameron does go a bit crazy. It takes the next few scenes and him falling off of the diving board into a pool for us to fully realize how afraid he is. During these catatonic scenes, Ferris admits to us that he is the one feeling nervous about moving on after graduation. He and Cameron will not see each other much and Sloane is a junior and will still be in high school next year. What is Ferris going to do? I care more about what Cameron is going to have to face at home when his father finds out about the car, not Ferris’s, once again, selfish worries.
All of this does lead to a climax for Cameron and my favorite part of the movie. This scene is not only the best of the movie, it nearly redeems the entire thing. Forgotten are the flimsy plot conventions, the shallow characters, and the overused comedy tropes. When Ferris fails to remove the miles from the car by propping it up and running it in reverse, Cameron is forced to come to terms with the repercussions of taking the car. In what is by far the most passionate speech of the film, Cameron says:
My old man pushes me around. I never say anything. Well, he’s not the problem, I’m the problem. I gotta take a stand. I gotta take a stand against him. I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m gonna take a stand. I’m going to defend it – right or wrong – I’m going to defend it. I’m so sick of his shit. I can’t stand him and I hate this goddamn car. Who do you love? You love a car! . . . When he comes home he’ll have to deal with me. I don’t care, I really don’t. I’m just tired of being afraid.
Now, if you remember, after a few hard kicks to the front bumper, the car is knocked off of the jack, hits the floor, and flies out of the window and down about two hundred feet – completely destroyed. What I love here is that this scene clearly defines Cameron as a dynamic character (one who undergoes a significant change). He is the only one in the film as all of the others are static and never come to any true change on self actualization. I have no idea what will happen when Mr. Frye comes home – none of us do and it may be bad, but Cameron has taken an important step in becoming the adult that he will be for the rest of his life. He is now going to be in control of his life and not run away from what it has to offer. Cameron is probably going to go away to college and not come back home. I believe he will be a success because he will face what he most fears and come away from it a better, more capable person. I am not sure I can say the same about Ferris.
I do not hate Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I like the pacing of it and I love Ben Stein as the teacher who constantly says, “Anyone, anyone” when no one answers. So saying, I still do not really like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I feel that John Hughes took a step backwards from The Breakfast Club to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. What I do realize now, though, is that Cameron Frye is clearly one of the best characters that John Hughes has created. I will maintain that this is my least favorite Hughes film, but I have come to have a deep appreciation for what he has done with this excellent character.
Coming soon: Pretty in Pink.