Ferris Bueller's Day off- A Bipolar Bonanza!
FILM: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
WATCH IT WHEN YOU NEED: Misbehaving but wholesome middle-class 80’s teenagers with mild angst.
YOU’LL LIKE IT IF YOU LIKE: The Breakfast Club, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Wayne’s World, Big.
Oh Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
It’s a film that makes children excited to be a teenager, adults nostalgic about being teenagers and teenagers skip school in search of adventures.
FBDO came out in 1986, the same year as Top Gun AND Pretty in Pink. My parents turned 18 that year. I seethe with jealousy just thinking about my mum, her frosted lipstick and shoulder pads enjoying these films in the cinema that year.
It’s hard to find a demographic that this film doesn’t appeal to. In all of John Hughes’ films, only Home Alone comes close in terms of all round appeal. And everyone knows you only watch Home Alone at Christmas. This film has bright colours, fast pace, great music and an age old plot of naughty boy gets up to harmless mischief. It’s undeniably fun.
Ferris himself (Matthew Broderick) said that Hughes intended the movie ‘to be about having a good time’.
There’s no hidden agenda of existentialism or class issues like in Hughes’s other smash hits The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink.
Or is there...? I think, if we scratch the surface a little, FBDO gives us one of the most relatable analogies of the teenage experience going.
Stay with me whilst I explain myself.
FBDO has two central, diametrically opposed characters, Ferris and his best friend Cameron.
Ferris is everything Cameron is not- he’s spontaneous, popular brave, cocky and has an endless supply of confidence in every situation. He never misses a chance for adventure and has a superhuman ability to avoid ever getting into trouble. His parents adore and prioritise him. Both his schoolmates and the wider community idolise Ferris as some sort of teenage demi-god. Oh and he’s going out with a complete hottie (Mia Sara). Ferris embodies a dream of what being a teenage boy can be and pushes it up to 1000.
But is he relatable?
Think back to your own teenage years- how many Ferris moments did you have? Moments when you were the undisputed KING OR QUEEN of the day. Looking back I think the closest I ever got to Ferris’s level of heroism involves being the only teenager able to get served for fags and booze at the corner shop. Hardly an air punching, singing twist’n’shout on a parade float moment. Still fun though.
Now let’s have a look at Ferris’s best mate Cameron- incidentally one of my favourite movie characters ever.
Let’s not beat around the bush here, Cameron is a very depressed and highly anxious character. He struggles to get out of bed, finds it hard to enjoy even the wildest of Ferris’s exploits in the city and has a panic attack that renders him speechless for an extended period of time. He has a difficult relationship with his parents and is terrified of the uncertainty that moving away to college will bring.
But is he relatable when we look back at our own teenage experiences?
DING DONG! NOW we’re cooking on gas!
Whether or not you have ever suffered with depression or anxiety, I think that everyone can relate to feeling like Cameron at some point during teenage years. We’ve all been a Cameron, sitting in his car trying to convince himself to go out, ending up screaming out a frustration at his inability to make a choice for himself. (I used to frequently do a Cameron in Topshop changing rooms.)
Cameron spends the film struggling with an issue that all teenagers, maybe especially modern teenager spend a long time fighting with- he doesn’t know who he is yet. His parents have impressed their lifestyle onto him, which he isn’t impressed by, and Ferris’s happy-go-lucky attitude to life is not a good fit for him either. He’s in limbo, and when you’re best mate is THE Ferris Bueller, that’s a hard place to be.
It’s not that some of us are Ferris’s in this world and some of us are Cameron’s- during our teenage years, we are all both. Ferris is the expectation we have for our teenage years and the outwards image of fancy free fun that we strive to present. He isn’t always realistic in the film, seeming to embody superhuman powers- which I feel represents the way we idealise the memories of our own teenage years. Cameron, in contrast, is the gritty, difficult reality of growing up.
In this light, Ferris, for all his running, jumping, creative inventions and charisma, becomes a bit flimsy. He’s fun, but he’s not real. If Ferris came into a bar and started telling you about his day off, don’t tell me you wouldn’t roll your eyes and call bullshit. I WOULD.
The direct conflict between Ferris and Cameron rings true of being a teenager. Ferris demands of Cameron constantly, making him horrendously uncomfortable throughout the film. Cameron begs with Ferris to not make him leave his home, begs him not to take his dad’s car to Chicago, begs Ferris to let him go home. Ferris, the voice of teenage expectations, is unrelenting- you MUST come out, you MUST take the car, you MUST have fun.
Take Ferris out of the plot of the film for a moment and look at the journey Cameron takes.
By forcing himself out of his comfort zone, Cameron learns to trust his own instincts and overcome his anxieties. In his final scene Cameron is faced with what he has feared the most over the course of the film- his father’s wrecked Ferrari. The Ferrari, the physical manifestation of Cameron’s life to date, triggers him to take ownership of his own future.
Whilst Ferris is still trying to find an ingenious way to wiggle out of the problem, Cameron uses this situation to start afresh and make a flippin inspirational speech.
‘I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I'm going to take a stand. I'm going to defend it. Right or wrong, I'm going to defend it.’
He still doesn’t know who he is, but he’s not scared anymore. There’s an airpunch moment right there.
I mean yeah, in the closing scenes Ferris manages to miraculously make it home so that his parents will never know their perfect son has played truant from school, invading several homes and causing near traffic accidents on the way…
…but Cameron, for the first time ever, is in control of his life.
With mental health problems amongst teenagers reaching crisis point across the UK- the message of this movie underneath all of its fun feels more relevant than ever.
It’s fun to be a Ferris and sometimes you will be a Ferris, but it’s also okay to be a Cameron and getting your Cameron side in order is a great achievement, even if it isn’t a glamourous task.
Being a teenager is hard, but life moves pretty fast... it won’t last forever.
End note: Sloane Peterson. That’s one hell of a jacket.