By Jonathan Lawrence
CALGARY — Anyone know anything fun to do on a day off? Anyone? Anyone? Well, just ask Ferris Bueller, that righteous dude. In the late John Hughes’s 1986 classic film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it’s revealed that Ferris (Matthew Broderick) has, in fact, missed school eight other times prior to the eponymous day off we all know and love, which begs the question: What happened on those days? Either way, it’s a minor infraction compared to the 27 days missed by Ed McNally, childhood friend of Hughes, and the real-life inspiration for Bueller (he denies it, but the real-life parallels are endless). So this May, go take a day off from work or school with Ferris at the Plaza Theatre, courtesy of the Fifth Reel, even if you have to fake a stomach cramp.
It’s ironic that Ferris Bueller refers to high school as “childish” when acting so is exactly how he’s able to deceive his gullible parents into staying home. Hughes once commented, “he’s six there, and it’s just what they want.” However, between the buffoonish principal Ed Rooney, the monotonous economics professor (Ben Stein) and all the “wastoids” and “dweebies” at Shermer High School (yes, that name does ring a bell; Judd Nelson crawled through the very same air ducts in The Breakfast Club, another Hughes classic), it’s very apparent why Ferris has no desire to spend his precious days there. And, besides, if he played by the rules, he’d be in gym right now.
“Cameron’s Day Off” might not have the same ring to it as the existing title, but it’s arguable that Ferris’s despondent best friend (Alan Ruck) might be the true hero of the story – although you’d certainly hear more of Cameron’s self-pitying “Go Down Moses” song than Yello’s “Oh Yeah.” Despite his perennial down-and-out demeanour, Hughes notes that Cameron can be assertive, but only “under the guise of someone else,” as evident when he dupes Rooney into thinking he’s Mr. Peterson. For many reasons, Cameron is arguably one of Hughes’s most interesting and complex characters, likely because he was based on a real friend Hughes had in high school.
Perhaps because it’s a John Hughes film, it’s easy to associate Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with being a coming-of-age film, but from Bueller’s perspective, it’s not really so, according to Fifth Reel organizer Alonso Melgar. “Ferris is kind of immature and arrogant, and largely stays that way for the entire movie,” he says.
Cameron, on the other hand, he says, “grows up through the course of the movie and learns how to stand up for himself and take control of his own life despite the potential consequences…[The film shows] stuff we all have to go through at some point before we can really grow up.”
Ferris is essentially a superman – he has no real problems, and therefore not as relatable. As Hughes pointed out, Ferris “can’t lose, if he did lose he wouldn’t be Ferris Bueller.”
That’s not to say the teenage philosopher isn’t admirable in his own right (or worthy of his own movie title). He may have pushed his friend far past his comfort level, but it’s later revealed that Ferris orchestrated the whole day for Cameron to get out and experience life – and to have a chance to deliver his “Life moves pretty fast” line, one which has become cemented in film quote history. Whether or not Ferris comes across as virtuous, he has inspired people for 30 years with his laid-back, cool demeanour and positive attitude. Super-fan Chris Herbus was heavily inspired by the film when it was originally released and remains so to this day.
“It made me want to get to know everyone,” he says. “It changed who I was to take bigger risks and just have fun.”
Chicago is undoubtedly the uncredited fourth main character of the film. It’s no secret that Hughes loved the Windy City. “Chicago is what I am,” he said. “Ferris is sort of my love letter to the city… I wanted to capture as much of Chicago as I could, not just the architecture or the landscape, but the spirit.”
Many events and locations of the film were also pulled right from Hughes’ life. He attended Ferris’s high school and frequented the Chicago Art Institute, the same museum where Ferris, Cameron and Sloane posed like statues, calling it a “place of refuge for (him).”
Much like Ferris and the gang, the aforementioned friend of Hughes, Ed McNally, (now a lawyer) also took his dad’s prized car for a joyride throughout Chicago, and attempted to erase the added miles by putting it in reverse. “We’ll drive home backwards,” Ferris assures the panicked Cameron that his dad won’t notice the additional miles. While that plan didn’t work for Ferris and Co., it inadvertently took off 10,000 miles from the car’s odometer for poor Ed McNally, which is arguably better than it ending up in a ravine.
Fifth Reel screenings are always fun events geared towards the fans and this one is no exception. “We’ve got some neat stuff planned,” says Melgar. In tribute of John Hughes, the event is going to be Chicago-themed, with “deep dish pizza and some great Chicago beer.” And it wouldn’t be a Fifth Reel event without a musical guest to get the party started; this month will feature indie rock group Child Actress.
Like many of John Hughes’s films, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was ahead of its time, addressing issues about teenage life that hadn’t really been done before; it created a perfect balance between comedy and drama with a message about seizing the day that is still “loud and clear,” according to Herbus.
The former prankster Ed McNally may have publicly denied his role as the inspiration for Ferris, but despite his lofty lawyer status, delivers reverence for Hughes and the laidback character we all wish we could be. He reminds us to “deal with your fear. Believe in yourself. Make sick days count” and that “your current situation doesn’t have to be your fate. There’s always another way.”
What’s that, you say? All that wisdom from a simple high-school comedy? That can’t be. I know, I just watched the latest Zac Efron movie and I wasn’t too impressed, either.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off plays May 14 at the Plaza Theatre. For more information, visit fifthreel.ca.AB, Alberta, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, John Hughes, Plaza Theatre, The Fifth Reel