This movie may be just a little bit of the curse of my generation. I have many memories from approximately five, six years ago, sitting in a conference call at my job. I worked for Gateway Computers at the time and the rest of my team was in South Dakota, poor bastards. Anyway, on these conference calls, any and every awkward silence would be greeted with someone parodying Ben Stein‘s economics teacher. “Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?”
Along with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Ferris Bueller has become sort of an “official” movie for people who went to high school during the eighties. It is, quite simply, the perfect high school fantasy where the clever adolescent ditches school and puts one over on the entire adult world.
Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) is that Teflon teenager, for whom nothing ever seems to go wrong. If it does, the consequences usually fall on someone else, usually the school’s hapless dean, Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones). He has doting parents and a girlfriend named Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara), who’s sweet, understanding and a drop-dead knockout. What he does not have is a car. For transportation, he depends upon his best friend, Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck), a nebbish with serious daddy issues. It seems the elder Frye has this impeccably restored 1961 Ferrari on which he lavishes far more attention than either his wife or his son.
I have a feeling that if they did a “where are they now” piece on Ferris Bueller, like at the end of Animal House, it would go something like this: “Founded internet start-up, made billions and cashed in before the stock market tanked.” Despite (or because of) his ability to get away with everything short of murder, Ferris is almost universally beloved by his teachers and classmates, with two exceptions. The first is dean Ed Rooney, who has a near-Ahab-like obsession with proving that Bueller is, in fact, cutting school and not home sick like his gullible mother insists. Ferris’ other nemesis is his sister Jeannie (Jennifer Grey), whose jealousy of her ne’er-do-wrong brother ascends to such Shakespearean heights that I half-expected her to speak in iambic pentameter.
The mere fact that Ferris is such a likeable character seems like a minor miracle. On paper he seems irresponsible and manipulative, faking an illness and then bullying Cameron into “borrowing” his father’s Ferrari for trip into Chicago, after helping Ferris to fake the death of Sloane’s grandmother to get her out of school. In the end, however, the whole exercise is for Cameron’s benefit and it’s Cameron who, in many ways, is the main character. He is the one with the character arc, who changes from the beginning of the movie to end, even if it is just from a spineless nebbish to a nebbish with a backbone.
Thus, instead of being an irresponsible manipulator, Ferris Bueller is a guy who put his high school graduation on the line for the benefit of his best friend. Through the best writing of John Hughes‘ career and Matthew Broderick’s performance, Ferris Bueller has emerged on one of the enduring comic characters of the eighties, right next to Fast Times‘ Jeff Spicoli.