Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) Starring Matthew Broderick, Mia Sara, Alan Ruck. Directed by John Hughes. Screenplay by John Hughes. Produced by John Hughes and Tom Jacobson. Color. U.S.A. Run time: 103 minutes. Comedy.
John Hughes will never go down as one of the greats of filmmaking, but he was very successful for several years making films about teenagers in and around Chicago, his hometown. His films were very much of their time, reflecting not only fashion and music of their day, but also helping to launch many careers. Films like Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Weird Science (1985) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) are among the films he both wrote and directed that grew out of his upbringing in Northbrook, Illinois, a suburb of the Windy City.
The screenplay for the film came together very quickly. Hughes pitched his idea to Paramount’s then head of the motion picture division, Ned Tanen, on February 25, 1985. While Tanen greenlit the picture on the spot, there was a looming Writer’s Guild strike, so Hughes wrote a first draft in less than a week. The film went into production with what was essentially his first draft. Rewrites, as it were, was editing down the film's first cut’s two hour and forty-five (165) minute run time by over an hour to 103 minutes.
Matthew Broderick was Hughes’ first choice for the lead, though he did consider such up and coming actors like Jim Carrey, John Cusack, Tom Cruise and Michael J. Fox. The then 23 year old actor had already been a successful stage actor appearing in Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy and as Eugene Morris Jerome in two of Neil Simon’s Eugene Trilogy of plays: Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues.
He had already made the move to films in Simon’s Max Dugan Returns (1983), followed by WarGames (1983), in which he plays a teenager who accidentally nearly launches an all-out Thermal Nuclear war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. after hacking into a computer designed to make the decision to launch.
For Ferris’s girlfriend, Sloane Peterson, Hughes cast Mia Sara who had only made one film, Legend (1985), opposite Cruise. Sara was chosen for the role, even though Molly Ringwald, a veteran of Hughes’ films, wanted it.
For Ferris’ best friend and patsy, Cameron Frye, Hughes selected an actor he had previously turned down for a part in The Breakfast Club, Alan Ruck. Even then, the role had been offered to Emilio Estevez, who turned it down. Ruck had previously worked with Broderick on Broadway in Simon’s Biloxi Blues, so the two already had a good working relationship and were already real friends before having to play them on film.
With a budget of a little under $6 million, filming began on September 9, 1985 in Chicago and lasted until November 22nd after returning to Los Angeles to complete production. The film opened on June 11, 1986, earning over $70 million at the box office during its initial release.
It’s a beautiful day and High School senior Ferris Bueller decides too beautiful to spend in school, so he fakes being sick in order to take a day off. As throughout the movie, Ferris talks to the audience. In this case, he’s advising on how to fake an illness.
|Ferris (Mathew Broderick) convinces his mom (Cindy Pickett) that he's too sick to go to school.|
While Ferris’ parents Tom (Lyman Ward) and Katie (Cindy Pickett) are easy marks, his sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) is less convinced. She knows that Ferris gets away with things she never could. He’s jealous of the fact that she has a car. (Ed Note: Frankly, the ages don’t seem quite right here. They are both in High School and she has a car, which suggests she’s older, and he’s a senior so are they in the same grade? This is perhaps something left on the cutting room floor, but there is no mention of how this happened or of her age in the film.)
|Ferris offers advice on how to fake out your parents.|
Equally unconvinced is the school principal Edward Rooney (Jeffrey Jones). He notes that this is Ferris’ ninth absence of the semester and calls Katie at work to inform her. She doesn’t believe him and tries to convince him that Ferris is very sick indeed. While they’re talking, Ferris hacks into the school computer and reduces his absences from nine to two while Rooney has his mother on the phone. Ferris explains his hacking by telling us he got a computer instead of a car. Ferris also proves to be handy with a synthesizer, which he loads with a floppy disk to simulate sick sounds while he chats on the phone with freshmen students at the high school. (Not sure who initiates the call, nor why, but it does build sympathy for the “sick” hero and adds to the myth around school as to how sick he really is.)
|Ferris talks to students at school and uses a programmed synthesizer to emphasis his "illness".|
Rooney is so outraged by Ferris flaunting his disregard for authority that he informs his assistant, Grace (Edie McClurg), that he’s going to catch him himself.
Meanwhile, Ferris calls his best friend, Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck), who is also sick in bed, but unlike Ferris who is faking, Cameron is convinced he’s dying. Ferris manages to convince Cameron that is death diagnosis is really a lack of something to do. Eventually Cameron gives in; we assume he always gives in. Ferris needs Cameron because, unlike him, Cameron has a car and even though it’s a piece of s***, Ferris is jealous.
|Ferris' best friend is Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck), who is also faking |
illness, though he's convinced himself he's dying.
Now that’s over, they work to free Ferris’ girlfriend, Sloane Peterson (Sara Mia). Pretending to be Sloane’s father, Cameron calls the school to explain that Sloane’s grandmother has died and they need her at home for the day. Rooney is convinced that it’s really Ferris who is calling and he informs the father that he’ll let her leave if he can produce a body.
Meanwhile, Grace takes a call from Ferris wanting to speak to Rooney. After Rooney speaks to Ferris, who asks politely if Jeanie could bring home any assignments he’ll miss, he changes his tune when speaking to Sloane’s “father.” (It’s revealed that both Ferris and Cameron are calling from landlines in Ferris’ house, this is in the days before cells. No explanation is given as to how they can both use the same landline at the same time. Again, maybe this is somehow explained in what we didn’t see.) Mr. Peterson demands that Rooney have his daughter out in front of the school in ten minutes.
Rooney is back on his heels and hurries to collect Sloane. There is a very funny scene in which he hurries down the halls, but stops running as he passes each classroom, as if aware of the example he’s supposed to be setting.
Now the issue is what to drive to pick up Sloane from school. Since Ferris doesn’t have a car and can’t pretend that Cameron’s is really a car a well-to-do father would drive, he convinces him to let him take Cameron’s father’s prized 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder, a car which Cameron notes his father loves more than life itself. In one of the funnier retorts, Ferris tells him “A man with priorities so far out of whack doesn't deserve such a fine automobile.”
|Cameron's father's 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder.|
Pretending to be her father, Ferris picks up Sloane at school. In the back, hiding under the car cover, is Cameron. The three drive into the city, where they leave the car in the hands of attendants at a parking garage. No sooner have they left the car, then two of them (Richard Edson and Larry "Flash" Jenkins) take the car for an extended joyride. We’re treated to updates on their ride from time to time throughout the next part of the film.
|Ferris catches a ball hit into the stands at Wrigley Field. |
Cameron and Sloane (Mia Sara) look on.
During their day in the city, the three teens visit the Art Institute of Chicago, the Sears Tower and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as well as Wrigley Field, where Ferris catches a ball hit into the stands, before having lunch at a French Restaurant. In order to get a table, Ferris poses as Abe Froman, the "Sausage King of Chicago". Still they narrowly miss being seen by Ferris’ father who is having a business lunch there as well. (This has to be the longest morning on record for them to do all of these things. I’m no aficionado, but I don’t think the Cubs play morning games either, which is the only way the sequence of events would even remotely work. Again, this might have been better dealt with if the screenplay had gone through a rewrite.)
|Abe Froman, the "Sausage King of Chicago" and friends stop for lunch.|
Mother Bueller comes home from her job as a real estate agent to check on Ferris. When she enters his room, she activates a pulley system which turns a mannequin torso in his bed and activates pre-recorded snoring. Fooled into thinking Ferris is resting up, she leaves him be.
|The Bueller's house.|
Principal Rooney, meanwhile, drives out to the Bueller household. Ferris has rigged the intercom to play an endless loop of pre-recorded messages about being too sick to come to the door, etc., which at first frustrates Rooney until he figures out what’s what. He searches for an open window, but gets one of his shoes stuck in thick mud by the house. When he tries to get in through a doggy door, he comes face to face with the Bueller’s dog, a Rottweiler. After suffering that attack, he is helpless to stop his car, which he conveniently parked illegally, from being towed away.
|Principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) goes too far and actually breaks into the Bueller home to catch Ferris.|
Meanwhile, Jeanie skips classes herself in an attempt to catch Ferris at home. When she gets there, Jeanie discovers Ferris’ ruse, but when she calls her mother she gets the brush off. Mom is too busy to talk to Jeanie and doesn't seem to take her daughter seriously. When Jeanie hears strange noises in the house, she goes downstairs thinking she’s caught Ferris. Instead, it’s Rooney, whom she kicks several times in the face, knocking him to the ground.
|Mom has little patience for Jeanie when she calls her at work.|
She goes back upstairs to call the police about a break-in, but Rooney manages to slink away before they get there. The police then arrest Jeanie for calling in a false report. While sitting waiting for her mother to come get her out, Jeanie makes the acquaintance of a juvenile delinquent (Charlie Sheen). For a delinquent, he gives Jeanie some sage advice: Don’t pay attention to what her brother gets away with.
Back in Chicago, Ferris, Sloane and Cameron are enjoying a cab ride when they get stuck in traffic. Sitting in the cab next to them is Ferris’ father, but when he glances over, the only person he sees is Sloane, whom he must not recognize, since she flirts with him.
|Ferris lip-syncs a couple of songs at the Von Steuben Day parade.|
After the cab ride, Ferris momentarily disappears into the crowd, but emerges atop a float in the Von Steuben Day parade, lip-syncing Wayne Newton’s signature version of “Danke Schoen.” He then follows that up with lip-syncing The Beatles’ famous version of The Isley Brothers’ classic “Twist and Shout”, which, naturally, ignites the whole parade into frenzy.
|Ferris has the whole parade and city in a frenzy.|
Afterwards, they go back to the garage to retrieve the car, so they can get home ahead of their parents at six. They discover that the car has over 100 additional miles on the odometer. So shocked is Cameron that he becomes catatonic with fear of his father’s wrath. It takes a little doing, like a plunge into a pool, to break the spell.
They take the car back to the garage and try to reverse the miles off the odometer, but that’s not how things work. Ferris suggests that they open the odometer and manually reset the mileage, but Cameron refuses. Instead, he takes out his pent up frustration with his lousy relationship with his father on the symbol of his father, the Ferrari. He kicks the car, denting the front. Disturbed by what he’s done, Cameron decides to confront his father. As he talks, he leans against the car, knocking it off its jack and with the car in gear; it drives itself backwards through the back of the garage and into a ravine behind the house. Ferris offers to take full blame for what has happened, but Cameron is determined to take the heat for the car.
|Things seem hopeless after the car goes out the back of the garage.|
Meanwhile, back at the police station, Mrs. Bueller comes to take Jeanie home, only to find her making out with the delinquent.
|Ferris' sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) finds chemistry with a juvenile delinquent (Charlie Sheen).|
Ferris returns Sloane home and realizes he only has a few minutes to make it back home ahead of his parents. (It's established that his father comes home every night at six sharp.) Ferris runs all the way back, taking the backway and short cuts, but stops to introduce himself when he passes a couple of girls sunbathing.
|Ferris takes Sloane home.|
While his father doesn’t notice him, Jeanie, who is driving her mom’s station wagon, does. She nearly runs over Ferris when he rushes out in front of the car. She then tries to run him down, but gets pulled over by the police, allowing Ferris to make it home just ahead of his parents. With them arriving in front, Ferris tries to go around back. (Once again there’s some time-bending going on. If you’ve ever gotten a ticket, it is not a quick process, but Jeanie and her mom arrive only seconds behind Ferris.) But Rooney is waiting for him and, thinking he finally has the goods on him, asks “How would you feel about another year of High School under my close personal supervision?"
But just when things look their darkest, Ferris gets a break. In a little bit of Deus ex Machina, Jeanie has discovered Rooney's wallet on the kitchen floor, proof he was the one who broke in and she uses it to blackmail Rooney into backing down, saving the brother she’s been trying all day to reveal as a fraud. And as she closes the door on him, the family Rottweiler attacks Rooney again.
Dashing upstairs, Ferris manages to get into bed just before his parents come into his room. Using the baseball from Wrigley Field, he manages to silence the snooze machine. His parents are clueless that he had ever been out of bed and even suggest that maybe he should stay home again the next day.
After they leave, Ferris reminds the audience, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Ferris then smiles at the camera before the screen goes dark.
|Mom and Dad (Lyman Ward) have no idea the ruse Ferris has pulled.|
Dejected and thoroughly defeated, Rooney is walking back home when the school bus happens by and offers him a lift.Nothing adds more to his humiliation than the look of the students as he boards the bus and makes his way inside. The only seat available is one next to the girl apparently no one else wants to sit next to. As if to add insult to injury, she offers him a gummy bear that she’s been carrying around in her pocket all day, so it’s warm and soft. (Best not to think too hard about it, but if it's supposed to be six o'clock, these poor students have been on that bus for hours.)
After the credits run, Ferris emerges from his room, in his bathrobe, and tells everyone to go home; “You're still here? It's over!”
When the film opened on June 11, 1986 in 1330 theaters, it made more than $6.25 million finishing second to the Rodney Dangerfield starrer Back to School, which also opened that weekend and also, coincidentally, includes a rendition of Twist and Shout, this time sung by Rodney Dangerfield on the soundtrack. If you go by these two movies, you’d think everyone was singing this song in the 1980s.
The film received good reviews, being called “fun” and “sophisticated” for a teen film. And the film is fun to watch; even on repeated viewings, the Ferris is still funny.
While I’m not a huge fan of his, this is easily my favorite Matthew Broderick film role. He seems like such a natural to play the devil may care Ferris. He’s since gone on to make a career on the Broadway stage, especially when starring opposite of Nathan Lane.
But like any ringleader, Ferris needs a supporting cast and Ruck and Mia provide him with good backup, especially Ruck. This is only the third film in a career which has included stints on television in Spin City (1996-2002) and supporting roles in a couple of big but vapid films: Speed (1994) and Twister (1996). There is an almost Joe E. Brown quality to Ruck’s persona in this film and some thought he deserved more recognition for the role.
Jennifer Grey, who played Ferris’ sister, would have her breakout performance a year later in Dirty Dancing (1987). She’s good in this role and one senses a lot of teenage angst from being the forgotten child in the house with obvious favorite, Ferris.
Prior to this movie, Jeffrey Jones was probably best remembered for his role as Emperor Joseph II in Amadeus (1984). He makes for a good foil for Ferris, someone who really wants to catch him and will do almost anything to bring the boy to justice for his truancy. But in the end, our hero wins the day. Jones, who would also play a prominent role in Beetlejuice (1988), would have his career derailed when he was arrested for possession of child pornography and solicitation of a 14 year-old boy in 2003.
I would be remiss not to mention all the other character actors who populate the film, including Edie McClurg as Grace and Ben Stein as Ferris’ Economics teacher. Both make the most of their small roles and leave a good impression. McClurg, who has appeared in 90 films and 55 TV episodes, has become a fixture on the voice actor circuit voicing roles in Cars 2 (2011), Wreck-It-Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013) and Zootopia (2016).
|Ben Stein makes a cameo as Ferris' Economics teacher.|
It would take too long to outline Ben Stein’s career, but he started out as a writer before becoming a speech writer for both Presidents Nixon and Ford. A conservative, Stein moved into films. While Ferris Bueller wasn’t his first, it was certainly the one that put him on the map as an actor. He’s appeared in Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), Ghostbusters II (1989), the TV show The Wonder Years and even played himself in Dave (1993). An intellectual, Stein even hosted his own game show, Win Ben Stein’s Money (1997-2002), in which he supposedly put up his own money should a contestant best him, in reality the money was put up by the show’s producers.
Like many of John Hughes' film, Ferris Bueller is a glamourized snap shot of the era it was made in. Everything about the film screams mid-1980s, which is part of its charm. Ferris is more than just a teenager’s fantasy; who wouldn’t want to play hooky whenever they want and just enjoy life? Despite my criticism of the film’s time-bending, it is really a very enjoyable and funny experience. I’ve seen the film maybe four times now and it never gets old.