When John Hughes died in 2009, there was a wave of affection for the godfather of the modern high-school movie. Yet critics and fans nominated Ferris Bueller as Hughes’ finest creation.
As Ferris would put it, we bought it.
On a technical level, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a fine achievement – a tight, economical, very funny movie.
Yet Hughes’ ‘hero’ is a terrifying figure.
From that first conspiratorial look to camera, Ferris commandeers our love to a degree rare even for a teen.
He tricks, cajoles, bribes his way out of trouble.
He spreads rumours reported as fact.
He hijacks a parade and dances with Bavarian milk maids.
This is how Hitler got started.
“The sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.”
That’s the hallmark of a dictator, right?
The casting doesn’t help. Hughes was astute enough to avoid making Bueller a jock and wrote the screenplay with nerdy Matthew Broderick in mind.
Yet the qualities Hughes saw in Broderick (“clever, smart, and charming”) hint towards darkness, and the actor’s nagging, nasal delivery creates a figure whose truancy is borderline obsessive-compulsive.
(Alexander Payne sensed Bueller’s evil, hence the ironic baton-passing in Election where Broderick’s history teacher is trounced by new teenage tyrant Tracy Flick.)
Bueller courts our vote with more sly slickness.
Check out his propaganda: “A person shouldn’t believe in an -ism. He should believe in himself.” Yuck.
Flashing cash but sulking because he doesn’t have a car, Ferris’ entitlement is alarming.
In The Guardian obituary of Hughes, the “spirit of individuality and defiance [his characters] retained in the face of a stifling, conformist adult world” was praised.
Ferris isn’t making a stand, he’s a brat.
We all knew Ferris Buellers in school, and they weren’t “righteous dudes”. They were arseholes.
Speaking of which, Ferris reckons “you can’t respect someone who kisses your ass.” He should know.
The only man Ferris respects is Dean of Students Ed Rooney (look how much effort goes into those calls and rigged doorbells!) but his peers are yes- men and brown-nosers like Cameron.
Has Bueller finally gone too far when Cameron trashes his father’s beloved car?
No: “you can never go too far.” Cameron falls on his sword, Rooney is broken and Ferris is free.
Today, Chicago; tomorrow, the world.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” From Bueller, that mantra sounds like a threat.
If Ferris was in a superhero movie, with his gadget-laden lair, capacity for thought control and rampant egotism, he’d be the villain, right? Or is it just me?