Say the name to the right people and you’ll get the most amazing response back. You just have to look at the catalogue to understand why. National Lampoon’s Vacation. Weird Science. The Breakfast Club. Sixteen Candles. Pretty in Pink. Uncle Buck. The man specialized in encapsulating the experience of growing up in the 1980s in suburban America. He defined the term “coming-of-age story” in cinematic culture.
But for the weight of the backlist of archetypal films he left behind after his sudden death in 2009, there’s one movie that rises above the rest in the hearts of so many of his fans.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Okay, for some it’s The Breakfast Club. Or Sixteen Candles. Or Uncle Buck. Still, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is an absolute classic of American cinema.
Ferris Bueller is an engaging and quick witted high school student who decides to skip a day of school. He pretends to be sick, picks up his friend Cameron, as well as the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California that belongs to Cameron’s dad, and break his girlfriend out of school for the day. They head for Chicago and antics ensue, pursued vigorously by both their Dean of Students and Bueller’s vindictive sister, Jeannie.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a prime example of the John Hughes tropes that exist throughout many of his films. A huge one is talking or at least acknowledging the audience. Bueller consistently breaks the fourth wall, talking straight to the audience on a number of occasions. It’s something that other filmmakers use as a storytelling device but Hughes elevates to an art form.
The film is set, in part, in Shermer, Illinois, a fictional suburb of Chicago that Hughes uses in many of films. It’s based on a real Chicago suburb named Northbrook, which is actually the subject of a comic book miniseries written by Kevin Smith set between Chasing Amy and Dogma that explains how the duo made it from one movie to the next. Smith’s obsession with Hughes shine through as Jay develops a “plan” to sell drugs to the high school students in Shermer, instead ending up in Northbrook and getting his ass kicked.
Matthew Broderick absolutely nailed the role of Ferris Bueller. The high school student is a healthy mix of bravado and fear all contained under an undeniable layer of charm. It was one of those roles a young actor like Broderick could really sink his teeth into. Despite Broderick’s success in films and on Broadway in the decades since he took that day off, Bueller is still the character that for better or worse defines his career.
The brilliance of John Hughes coming-of-age films is that they speak to a common high school experience many of us shared. Everyone was nervous and scared, just trying to get from one day to the next without someone noticing how vulnerable we truly were. And some of us still feel that way. Ferris did that one thing all of us longed to do and walked away from it all, even if it’s just for one day.
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Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Words to live by.