The 1980s was the decade that saw the real revenge of the nerds. Formerly society’s outcasts, the revolution began that would make them “cool”. While the pocket protectors and thick glasses were still the cliché, suddenly they were the heroes. From the Ghostbusters’ scientific muddlers and Back To The Future’s pirate video-creating hero Marty McFly, to computer programmers like Tron’s Flynn and outcasts like Pretty In Pink’s Duckie, geeks and nerds weren’t what they used to be. But of all the standouts back then, actor Matthew Broderick played two of them: WarGames’s David Lightman, a hacker, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off‘s Ferris Bueller.
On the surface, Ferris doesn’t seem like the standard nerd; He’s the most popular kid amongst his fellow students, has a gorgeous girlfriend, and he’s a born winner. But he’s also a lazy slacker who often skips school, and is only passing because he regularly hacks the school computer. And for one crazy day, we get to join him on his adventure as he goes truant. In a series of camera asides he even teaches us how to do it, because – like Deadpool – he’s so cool that he can break the fourth wall.
His plan involves getting his neurotic friend Cameron to join him, he creating a cover of chaos with a series of phony phone calls, and “borrowing” Cameron’s dad’s classic Ferrari to pick up his girlfriend. The perfect day lies ahead, involving eating at a five-star restaurant without booking a table, attending a baseball game and visiting the stock exchange. Except… Cameron is bored and pessimistic, Ferris and his girlfriend Sloane are only going through the motions, Ferris’s sister Jeanie wants to expose him as a fraud, and Principal Rooney is desperate to catch him out and humiliate him.
It’s all worth the risk, he believes, because he wants to make the most of his irresponsible school days before the real world comes crashing in. There are serious complications though. Ferris doesn’t realise how deeply Cameron’s personal problems run, and using the Ferrari may have been the worst idea ever because it’s the symbol of Cameron’s personal fears and screwed-up home life. Jeanie skips school to prove Ferris is ditching, and gets arrested. Rooney has become so obsessed that he’ll go to any lengths to catch Ferris. And with the end of the day drawing to a close, he also has to get back home before his parents. Taking it easy was never so much of a struggle…
When it comes to teen movies in the ‘80s, nobody made them better than John Hughes. In fact, his teen movies from that time are the best ever, period. They didn’t just tell stories, they were an inspiration to all who saw them, and the side-effects can be seen in films like Spider-Man: Homecoming and Deadpool. If that’s not impressive enough, consider that when the band Nirvana met Ferris actor Ben Stein, Kurt Cobain insisted that he recite his classic “Bueller… Bueller…” line. That should tell you the power of this film, and anyone who’s ever seen it knows it’s power.
Yes, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a funny film. At times it’s even hilarious. The dialogue sparkles and requires several viewings just to get the full impact out of some sneaky comments, and the situations on display keep building, ramping up the fun as it goes.
It’s also tragically touching too, in particular with Cameron’s storyline. He’s a fun character in his own right, but the pressures of being in Ferris’s shadow and his own home life have created deep emotional scars. The scene where he stares at the painting of A Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte at the museum is heartbreaking, as he focuses on the innocent child in the centre who is surrounded by a world of corruption. His burst of outrage towards his father at the end is so powerful it can leave some viewers in tears.
Meanwhile, Matthew Broderick as Ferris is perfect as the Han Solo of geeks. He gives us his mock-serious take on the world, quoting John Lennon even though he probably doesn’t believe it himself. He’s lovable, even though you know he probably wouldn’t care about you. His nemesis Principal Rooney, played by Jeffrey Jones, is superb as he thinks he’s Dirty Harry but acts like Inspector Clouseau. His rising frustrations and obsession makes you almost feel sorry for him… once you’ve stopped laughing at his latest misfortune.
With an offbeat ‘80s soundtrack that fits every scene perfectly, and such fine storytelling on display, it’s hard to find fault with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off even now. It’s one of those films that you just can’t get tired of because it’s more than just a cult film, it’s pure entertainment with an artistic streak. It holds up as a comedy classic, and gave us the self-appointed king of the modern nerds. We don’t need to save Ferris, because Ferris saved us.