What more do I have to say than it’s the thirtieth-sixth anniversary of the release of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”? The instant classic was released to the world on June 11, 1986 to critical and popular acclaim. Who knew so many of us would identify with a Chicago rich kid slacker? John Hughes did.
Starting with Pretty in Pink in 1984 and continuing through Some Kind of Wonderful in 1987, Hughes spun tales of teenage angst into box office gold. Ferris Bueller earned 70 million at the box office placing it at number nine for the year. Top spot went to Top Gun. I guess most of America was more aligned with watching a farcical dogfight with World War III implications than watch Matthew Broderick pose as Abe Froman the sausage king of Chicago. To each his own I guess. I thought Ferris’s impersonation was spot on.
It wasn’t the impersonation that made Ferris a legend, however. It was clear from the tone of Ben Stein’s “Beuller, Beuller, Bueller, Bueller,” and the immediate response of one of his classmates that Ferris’s panache had earned him a degree of notoriety. The response of the classmate sounded more like an urban legend than an accurate accounting of Ferris’s absence. The explanation was delivered by Simone, the prettiest girl in the class, with such relish that it cemented in the viewers mind that Ferris Bueller was “the dude”.
Only “the dude” could convince his hypochondriac best friend Cameron to play hooky with him. Not only play hooky, but to do it in style. The boys steal Cameron’s dad’s most precious possession, the “thing that he loves the most”, his Ferrari, to squire the group on their adventure. After checking out Ferris’s girlfriend from school, the trio embark on their odyssey of fun for the afternoon that culminates in Ferris leading a parade through Chicago. Just a typical day for any American high schooler.
The great thing about movies is the total suspension of reality for a couple of hours. Teenage viewers from all stripes were transported to a reality that less than the top five percent of the world could experience. The first clue that the Buellers were not an average middle class family was the thousands of dollars of electronic equipment Ferris used to carry out his ruse of being sick. The second clue was the private bathroom. This is not an average American middle class family, but we identify with them just the same.
Through John Hughes’ writing and directing we find a way to embrace a smug, self-centered rich kid slacker as a role model. Somebody we’d love to give us a call the next time he’s going to boost a priceless car and act out. We accept the idea that destroying the Ferrari was actually a good thing for Cameron’s psyche. We ignore the fact that the dad had built an exhibition room to display the “thing that he loved the most” and that it too was destroyed. Just another day of hijinks in the cool kid’s club.
Not to rain too much on the parade, I do have to admit to loving all of John Hughes movies. I’m particularly fond of “Pretty in Pink” and “Some Kind of Wonderful” for their more modest settings and characters. Not that we all wouldn’t love to live in Ferris’s neighborhood. The neighborhood where there are no consequences for actions. Where even the least studious philosopher can counsel, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Welcome to middle age, Ferris.