The ultimate film about skiving first appeared in cinemas 30 years ago this week. But has it stood the test of time? Over to you, Ashley Davies…
What and why: “Bow bow… chicken tikka / Bow bow… chicken tikka… Oh yeeeaaah.” Oh yeah, it’s Oh Yeah, that instantly recognisable, some might say appalling, song by Yello in which the vocalist sounds like he’s using one of those devices used by kidnappers to disguise their voices.
It’s the distinctive theme tune for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the 1986 John Hughes hit in which Matthew Broderick’s charismatic chancer Ferris skives off school and takes his best friend, Cameron (Alan Ruck, later seen in Spin City alongside Michael J Fox) and girlfriend Sloan (Mia Sara, who, oddly, looks like she shares more than a little DNA with Broderick) on a day of adventure and discovery (oh, yeah) around Chicago.
Ferris uses an array of ingenious and entertaining 80s-style methods to avoid being caught. His adoring parents and array of school fans never suspect that he is anything other than desperately ill, but the headmaster, Ed Rooney, played by the brilliant Jeffrey Jones, knows something is rotten and is in hot, increasingly deranged, pursuit. Ferris’s sister, played by Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey, is also deeply suspicious and sick of her sibling getting away with this kind of shit while everyone else has to suffer at school on a sunny day.
Over the course of the day the errant trio drive around in Cameron’s dad’s limited edition vintage Ferrari, get one over on a snooty maître d’ (who resembles an older Joffrey from Game of Thrones fallen on hard times) at a fancy restaurant, explore the Art Institute of Chicago, crash a massive street parade and have a session in somebody else’s Jacuzzi.
This film is packed with flaws. Sloan never really gets to do anything other than simperingly adore Ferris while looking pretty in a tasselled jacket. Jeanie only stops resenting Ferris when, at a police station, she gets a snog off a sexy, random drug enthusiast (played by a young Charlie Sheen – hmm, interesting foreshadowing there, Mr Hughes), and when Ferris, masquerading as Sloan’s father, gives her a massive snog hello, the headmaster shrugs it off with: “So that’s how it is in their family.” Hashtag incest lols.
“Like so many psychopaths, when Ferris realises he has wronged Cameron, he tries to make it up with a grand gesture – jumping up onto a parade float and miming Danke Schoen in his honour.”
But its biggest flaw lies is Ferris’s treatment of Cameron, his supposed best friend. Cameron is desperately unhappy at home, his parents hate each other and his father shows more love to that car than to his son. The boy’s unhappiness manifests itself in illness, and Ferris bullies him all the way through.
He bullies him into leaving his sickbed, manipulates him into nicking the car (plus, Cameron has to sit perched up in the back because, naturally, Ferris is driving with his pretty girlfriend in the passenger seat) and ends up being partly responsible for Cameron having such a serious panic attack that he almost drowns.
And like so many psychopaths (at one point Cameron calls our protagonist a psycho and he clearly takes it as compliment), when Ferris realises he has wronged Cameron, he tries to make it up with a grand gesture – jumping up onto a parade float and miming Danke Schoen in his honour. Cameron is moved, elated and forgives him.
Rated or dated: Based on my possibly po-faced description of this movie so far you’d be forgiven for thinking I have plans to fling it on the “dated” fire. Nuh-uh. Because, despite all that’s wrong with it, it is bloody brilliant.
Ferris’s pieces to camera are beautifully written, articulate and knowing, and Broderick’s performance is exceptional. (Also, how did I not notice the first time round how sexy he was back then?) The depictions of a boring day in school are spot-on, and some of the smaller parts, such as that of the Economics teacher, played by Ben Stein, who ad-libbed most of the scene, are wonderfully observed.
There’s a scene of pure 80s joy when Ferris unites thousands of onlookers to dance on the streets to Twist and Shout, and, yes, in the end Ferris does offer to take the heat for the destruction of the Ferrari, even if Cameron declines and starts behaving like someone who might end up going postal to get back at his dad.
And yes, the charismatic selfishness is rewarded because it’s the 80s and that’s kind of what that fucked-up decade was all about, but damn, it’s a funny movie, and it probably did more to acknowledge mental health problems such as those suffered by Cameron than many films of its generation.
It also expertly captures that “last-year-of-school-what-will-become-of-us-next?” angst disguised as pursuit of stolen fun. I declare Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to be RATED.
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Ashley Davies is an Edinburgh-based writer and editor and the human behind animal satire website thelabreport.co.uk.