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Celebrating 30 Years of ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’

When slackers rule the Earth: an adventure 30 years in the making.

There’s something magical that happens when you find all of your responsibilities absolved for a day: the joys of summer vacations spent fritting away time with no care; a canceled class replaced with a sunny day in a park; snow blanketing the world and burying work; school and transit in a gentle, yet firm, suggestion of “nope.”  These are examples on a page, but nothing can convey that feeling save through art, and no film does it better than Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

To be fair, this film could be considered Privilege: The Movie.  Living in an upscale, white neighborhood, a young boy (Matthew Broderick) engineers one last day of adventure to say farewell to the simple joys of trackless days before higher education, work, and more adult responsibilities take over (as the youth would call “adulting” and shows the insight of John Hughes’ mining of the past to connect with an audience).  This plan is actually well balanced by the presence of Ferris’ sister Jeanie Bueller (Jennifer Grey) who works to disrupt the apparent ease of Bueller’s trip through the day, though the final victory is his after Charlie Sheen (in an oddly predictive role, no?) convinces Jeanie that it’s not worth it.  Nothing sticks to Ferris, and though many close calls make for an entertaining ride, it’s still hard not to root for him as he weaves through the many authorities that could reprimand and punish him.  Not many of us could pull off what Ferris does, even from the outset, and that’s what makes the film such an engaging fantasy.

There are three main factors that I think make this piece of cinema stand the test of time.  The first aspect this movie has perfectly encapsulated is the desire that everyone has: that you can be established in all aspects of your life, but that you can let everything sit and take a chance.  Neil DeGrasse Tyson commented on the experience in his reboot of Cosmos, to paraphrase:  once the needs of survival have been met, one can look to the stars and dream.  There’s not much that you can dream of when the whole of your life is either making ends meet or worrying about the same, so to be able to fantasize about taking a day pass on everything you should be doing makes the Bueller fantasy an incredibly attractive one. 

The second facet that makes this such an engaging movie is Ferris’ lack of fear for saying “yes.”  Every opportunity he encounters or makes, he takes full advantage of, whether it be Cameron’s dad’s car, the chance to woo downtown Chicago with a little belting of the Beatles, or simply to take in every major city highlight.  At no point does he shy away from making a bold choice; he even says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  How many times have each of us passed on something, simply because we didn’t feel like we could take the shot? 

Lastly, Bueller’s entire day is dependent on his commitment.  There are more than a few times that luck plays a major role in his succeeding, but his commitment to each and every endeavor is what allows him to take advantage of that luck.  Having Cameron (Alan Ruck) jumping on the phone as the police chief in the restaurant to help more fully sell the illusion that Ferris is speaking to the police to report the matre’d for not recognizing him as “The Sausage King of Chicago,” grabbing the cab outside the same restaurant right under his father’s nose, finding alternate solutions to scaling the odometer back just before the greatest car crash in the history of time, and his full trust in Jeanie in the kitchen when Principal Rooney has Ferris dead to rights – these all take a willingness to let it all hang out on the shot that things will work out as long as you keep pushing.  Hey, it worked for Han Solo…up to a certain point.

So, that’s why I feel this movie still resonates within the collective consciousness, including the most recent love letter in the post-credits scene of Deadpool with a shot-for-shot parody of the incredibly famous tag of that film with Broderick in his bathrobe.  Much like Harry Potter, Hello Kitty, and Ikea furniture, this is precisely the type of cultural touchstone that led audiences to connect with Wade Wilson’s homage.  It’s evident that it has surpassed cult status and instead has insinuated itself into the fabric of our collective experience, so much so that it even breaches the meme generation.

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This movie has left an indelible mark on the culture of anyone who’s old enough to remember cassette tapes and lazy days by the pool, when the pay phone was the only way to change the time your mom was coming to pick you up.  It’s a movie whose plot would be shattered by the technology of today which provides a dual level of nostalgia. It’s frozen in a time that we can’t return to, and, though we pine for it, we all have an opportunity to take its lessons to heart. 

Go on, get out of here. The article’s over.


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