Recently I mentioned that I watch The Blues Brothers (1980) whenever I am dealing with a bout of Chicago nostalgia. Another great movie for getting your Windy City fix is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). It is also a comedy, but presented in a very different way. Instead of being on a mission from God and dodging every conceivable authority, Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), his best friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck), and his girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara) are on a mission to dodge high school. Having been educated for many years in the Chicago area, I understand the desire to take full advantage of the rare nice weather days between September and May.
As an educator myself, I cannot condone skipping school unless you are actually sick. However, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, that is exactly how Ferris sets in motion his scheme to enjoy a nice day: by faking an illness. We have all been there. When we are young, senior year economics must seem interminably dull, and the film does a great job of reinforcing this concept by having the teacher played by Ben Stein (Bueller? Bueller?). After succeeding in tricking his parents, Ferris gathers Cameron (and his father’s limited edition Ferrari) and Sloane, and they set off for the city. There are two people who do not buy into Ferris’ tale, and they are Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) and his sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey). So while Ferris and company are bashing about downtown and taking in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, the two sticks in the mud are bent on catching Ferris in the act. In order to foil his adversaries, he must make it home before his parents and anyone else getting wise. He does so, in style, of course.
In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the titular character is certainly the one the film focuses on. But it bucks convention by not really giving Ferris an arc. He begins and ends the movie in basically the same emotional state. Instead, he is the vehicle by which the characters around him learn something about themselves. When they discover that the Ferrari has many more miles on it than it should when they pick it up from the parking garage (by the way, is there anything better than seeing a vintage sports car soaring through the air with the Chicago skyline in the background?), Cameron is faced with his worst nightmare: having to deal with his domineering father. The confrontation comes, though, not with dad but with the car. He takes out his frustrations on the fender, bending it before it falls off its jack and hurtles backwards out the window and into a ravine behind the house. As children, we sometimes try to hide wrongdoing by concealing the evidence of our crimes. We do this because of a lack of maturity. But when Ferris convinced Cameron to let them use the car, it set Cameron on a path that could only end with finally having it out with his father. Growth comes in moments such as these.
There is nothing overtly Catholic about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Still, it is more than just a comedy about truancy. Despite Jeanie’s jealousy towards Ferris in his ability to seemingly “get sway with everything” and that everyone loves her brother no matter what, in the end she defends her brother to Rooney by adding to the sickness farce just as the young man is getting home. She does mete out vengeance by tossing Rooney’s wallet to the Bueller’s ravenous rottweiler, but at least the bonds of family are strong. There is also Ferris and Sloane’s desire to fulfill the vocation of marriage. I may be reaching here, but at least there is nothing too objectionable going on aside from skipping school.
In many respects, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is an even better Chicago film than The Blues Brothers. It shows more of the attractions of the city, like the Sears Tower (I refuse to call it the Willis Tower!), the Art Institute, and the Chicago Board of Trade, just to name a few. If you are not an aficionado of the city like me, then enjoy it for the fun that it is throughout. There is a lighthearted thumbing of the nose at authority that is endearing without being over-the-top. I will leave it to the parents out there to decide how best to approach the material in this film.