“Here is one of the most innocent movies in a long time, a sweet, warm-hearted comedy about a teenager who skips school so he can help his best friend win some self-respect.” (Ebert, 1986, June 11)
“But that the film doesn’t live up to our anticipation of a rollicking good time is only part of its disappointment.” (Siskel, 1986, June 11)
“That was awesome.” (Me, probably... circa June 15 (the Sunday after Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out))
I say “probably” because, obviously I did not record my response to the film and I certainly wasn’t blogging back then. But, hell if this movie didn’t live up to my anticipation. I say “circa” because, I am not actually sure when that weekend we saw the film, but it was most likely Sunday afternoon...
Also in theaters that weekend:
#1 for the weekend was Back to School but I wouldn’t see that until sometime later at the Academy second run theater. Ferris Bueller was #2. Top Gun (click 1 2 3 4 5 6 for more on that film) was still at #3 in its fifth weekend. Cobra—which I would not see until it was cable, I’m pretty sure—was #4 in its 4th weekend. Raw Deal—which I saw at some point in the theater, maybe its first weekend a week earlier—was #5...
Which brings me to a weird sidenote: why did we see Raw Deal in the theater but not Cobra? We saw Rambo and Rocky IV in the theater the year before (and, I’d seen the previous Rocky films (Rocky III in the theater) and First Blood, so it wasn’t that my parents had anything against Sylvester Stallone. Hadn’t seen any other Schwarzenegger films in the theater yet... unless that vague memory of one of the Conan films at a drive in is real... Hell, did we even see Raw Deal in the theater? I mean, by the time Predator and The Running Man came out in ‘87, I was certainly familiar with Schwarzenegger, had seen both Conan films and Red Sonja, The Terminator, The Villain, and even Hercules in New York. So many movies, things blur together a little bit. Maybe I didn’t see Raw Deal in the theater, maybe I did see Cobra. At a certain point, memory starts to go, and movies and theater-going experiences blend together, but...
I remember seeing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. We were at the Pacific Theater in Hastings Ranch, I’m fairly sure. I remember the credits rolling, Rooney getting in the schoolbus and Ferris Bueller talks to the audience, and the fourth wall-breaking son of a bitch amused me a whole lot.
First, let’s finish off the top ten box office. Poltergeist II: The Other Side—saw it later on TV. Short Circuit—same. Space Camp—same... or maybe that one was a video rental from Wherehouse. The Manhattan Project—don’t remember, probably saw it first on television. Finally, #10 was Invaders from Mars... which I’m not sure I ever saw.
A Tobe Hooper film, with Dan O’Bannon writing (with Don Jakoby), about aliens invading... And. I. Never. Saw. It. What is this world coming to? It what did it fail to come to back in 1986 when I didn’t see Invaders from Mars?
I’ll see about watching it tomorrow.
In the meantime, I was talking about something else.
Oh yes, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
First of all, yeah, I loved this movie and Siskel is just wrong. Or he expected far too much from this film just because John Hughes was involved. Ebert calls John Hughes “the philosopher of adolescence” but he likes the movie. Siskel seems to have expected something... bigger, deeper. Not that there isn’t depth to this film. Siskel says the film “doesn’t seem to know what it’s about until the end” but Ferris tells us what the film is about right at the start: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Actually, Siskel explains this; “In the beginning,” he writes, “young Ferris (Matthew Broderick) looks directly into the camera and delivers his philosophy of life, which he uses to explain why he has ditched school nine times this year and is about to go for No. 10.” So, Siskel gets that it’s Ferris’ philosophy but misses that it’s the entire point of a) Ferris dragging Cameron along and b) the entire damn movie.
Siskel also complains about it taking too long to get to the city. “It must be a fully half hour,” he complains, “before Ferris and his friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) set off from the North Shore for a would-be wild day downtown.” Yes, it’s called Act One. The city ventures fit quite neatly into Act Two, nestled neatly between Ferrari trips. And, Act Three takes place back in the suburbs. It’s not rocket science, it’s film structure 101, and a film critic should get that. I mean, I can understand if he doesn’t like it, but he seems to just not understand it.
He also calls the “main event” of Act Three “lackluster” so really he just doesn’t care for the film much at all. Personally, seeing Cameron transform over the course of the film from someone quite obviously psychosomatically ill because he’s so uptight and afraid to someone practically begging for a fight with his father is a rather impressive storyline considering we actually only get the backstory and the transformation from Ruck’s performance.
Finally, Siskel does come to something good, though he sees it as too little, too late:
At the end of the picture we get the message that Ferris may have an altruistic motive for ditching. It may be that he really sees himself as the class Pied Piper [I stole that phrase yesterday], setting an example of free-living spirit for his uptight friends, who have typical rotten parents.
If this element of Ferris as teacher had been scattered more frequently throughout the movie, it would be a better film. The picture should be re-edited.
No, Siskel, it should not. We can see Ferris’ example throughout Act Two and we get a pretty good idea of it in Act One. By the time Act Three comes around, we’re so invested in the fun of all of this, we’re dying for a message even if we don’t realize it and we’ve already taken in that message even if we didn’t notice it so much when Ferris first told it to us over an hour ago. The message is simple: live your fucking life, be yourself, have some self respect and do what makes you happy.
(The kind of message Phil Connors could probably get behind.)
I mean, just look at the end of the art museum sequence. Ferris and Sloane find a dark spot in which to share a nice kiss while Cameron gets lost in the detail of “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” so lost in the detail that he lose the image. The camera moves closer and closer—as we can safely assume Cameron’s attention does—until we cannot make out the image anymore, losing the forest for the trees or whatever that saying is. Cameron is trapped in the details of his life rather than actually living. When Ferris is about to sing “Danke Schoen” he dedicates it “a man who doesn’t think he’s seen anything good today.” Ferris is the wake up call Cameron needs because we can’t all have time loops.
When Cameron claims he’s seen “nothing good” on their day off, Ferris responds: “We’ve seen everything good. We’ve seen the whole city. We went to a museum. We saw priceless works of art. We ate pancreas.” He doesn’t get to mention the chaos of the stock exchange or the fun of the baseball game because his father happens to be in the car next to theirs. But, Ferris is right. They’ve seen a lot.
Consider, because this entry has gotten wordy and I’m going to cut it off soon: Ferris skips school, along with Sloane and Cameron, they enjoy the day and get away with it—well, who knows exactly what will happen between Cameron and his father, but we are supposed to assume it’s going to end well even if it may be painful along the way. On the other hand, Jeanie also skips school but she does so out of a sense of spite and envy. Even when she is right to call the police because there’s an intruder in her house, she gets punished because her initial motivation in being there is a bad one. The movie offers up a fairly specific moral view on what’s going on: there is nothing wrong with Ferris et al skipping school but there just might be something wrong with Jeanie doing so. It’s all about your motivation.