Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Forever Young: Why I love Ferris Bueller's Day Off

"Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it."

Today marks 28 years since John Hughes' Ferris Bueller's Day Off was released in theaters.  I have a fondness for this film because it was released exactly one week before I was born, so I like to think that it essentially prepared me to fear adulthood all my life.  It has succeeded.

While I can't pick a single favorite John Hughes film, this one is very high on my list.  Before or since this film, I have not seen a better celebration of youth before it ends.  It's almost like a bachelor party for the teen going into adulthood.  It is Ferris' last hurrah before he has to become a normal, upstanding, lifeless adult like the others in the film, which leads to my first point...

One year after Mr. Hughes passed away, the Film Society of Lincoln Center held a retrospective of his work, and I attended a double feature of Pretty in Pink (which Hughes wrote; Howard Deutch directed) and Ferris.  Molly Ringwald did a Q&A for Pretty, and Jason Reitman introduced Ferris.   It's pretty obvious that one can not direct a film like Juno without regarding Hughes as some sort of forefather, so I was quite interested in what Reitman had to say about the film.  He told the audience that we should look at the film as if Ferris really IS dying, because in a way, adulthood is death.

The adults in Ferris are either boring, beyond clueless, or both.  Ferris' parents actually fall for his terrible performance and let him stay home for the day.  Grace, the school secretary, is a dimwit who sniffs White-Out at her desk.  The economics teacher's monotonous voice (made immortal by Ben Stein) plays throughout the film, making the school subject even more torturous than usual. The only adult who is on to Ferris' games is his high school principal, Mr. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), but he is so incompetent, we know he will never catch Ferris.  Plus, he is an adult and adults don't win in this world. Ferris wins.  Perhaps it's the assumption that when youth is on your side, so is victory.  At least that's how I see it in John Hughes' oeuvre.  

Ferris mostly outsmarts the adults by using youth to his advantage.  He is a member of the very first MTV generation. He is among the first of teenage boys to have a computer in his bedroom.  He uses technology to fool the adults who are out-of-touch: he hacks his high school database to alter his number of absences, uses his stereo system to simulate snoring, his electric keyboard to play a variety of bodily sounds, and rigs his doorbell to play an automated voice message declaring his poor health.  Not to mention the various prank phone calls throughout the film.

Adulthood is scary.  One year, you are enjoying life as a 17 year-old.  Your major dilemma is what movie to see on a Friday night with friends or a date.  But the next year, you are bombarded with major life decisions.  What do you want to be? Where do you want to go to college? What will you do after that? With these questions, it's implied that your job will define you.  You are what you do, and since you no longer do the fun things of a teenager, you are no longer fun.  Life as you know it has ended. I know I sound completely morose and depressing right now, but most people don't hold on to the same fearlessness and sense of freedom that they had before responsibilities came along.  I don't think Hughes or Reitman really think that adulthood is death (after all, they became adults), but perhaps they mean that some adults get so consumed by the responsibilities of adulthood that they no longer truly live; they just go through the motions of a daily schedule as monotonous as Ben Stein's voice.

That's probably why John Hughes is responsible for some of the most jovial, fun, lovable and quotable movies of the 1980s.  He refused to let adulthood jail him, and I will always be thankful for that.

So, whether you cheer for Ferris, the adults, Jeanie, or Wayne Newtown; whether you think Ferris Bueller's Day Off is the penultimate carpe diem or just a fantasy completely made up in the neurotic mind of Cameron Frye, I hope you watch the movie again tonight, or very soon.  Save Ferris, and Long live John Hughes.