Everyone needs a feel good movie that you can just pop in the DVD player at the end of a rough day, or even just a boring day, and enjoy. I have a lot of movies like this and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a prime example. I can’t say I absolutely love this movie, but it definitely does what it is intended to do: it inspires me to live a little while letting me laugh at all of the shenanigans Ferris and his friends go through.
One of the things this movie does really well is character development. The first scene where Ferris is being sick (and his acting is terrible on purpose) is a great scene establishing what we’re dealing with. The moment his parents leave the room only for him to sit up and say “They bought it”. We know what we’re in for. This is a kid that doesn’t take “you can’t do that” for an answer and runs the show. All it took for us to get to this point was one scene.
While we’re talking about one scene character development, I absolutely can’t forget to mention Ferris’ sister, Jeanie. She appears briefly while Ferris is pretending to his parents, and yet we get the full extent of her character right there. She’s young, a generally good kid but she has a bad attitude because of how Ferris can fool everyone so easily. Her character doesn’t change from this until the end of the film, and all it took to establish this was a few lines. However, I believe the best character development in the film is not even for Ferris, but for Cameron. Not only do we, the audience, have Ferris telling us about Cameron to our faces, but we have a first-hand view of what Cameron intends to do with his day off (sitting there being sick and feeling sorry for himself, making things out to be worse than they really are.
The only problem I have with character development in this movie is with Sloane. We actually are never told much about her character, other than that she is a junior, a cheerleader, and Ferris’ girlfriend. She’s pretty and she’s fun but not too ridiculous like Ferris, but this is all we get. I can honestly say I don’t understand why Ferris says multiple times that he would marry Sloane. The way she is presented in the movie makes her very replaceable by any other pretty cheerleader, so I wish they had done more with her character. However, I suppose the reason they didn’t was that they (the writers and possibly the director) didn’t want Sloane to push the audience away from focusing on the dynamics between Ferris and Cameron. She is the third wheel in this film, not Cameron.
Back to Ferris though. In this movie, we tend to side with Ferris due to point of view. Because the story is told through his perspective, we root for Ferris and hope he doesn’t get caught. It is established early on that he’s a cool guy, so having him be the focus of the movie as well as having him talk directly to the audience helps us feel like we’re cool, somewhat forcing us to accept everything he is doing. However, it is also clear that Ferris is not necessarily a great guy. Sure he’s got friends, but he harasses Cameron (despite claiming he wants what is best for him, he also refuses to take the car back and pushes Cameron to his breaking point). Ferris is not perfect, as much as he would like to be. Oddly enough, we are not left without voices of reason in this film, or at least logical voices. Cameron, Jeanie, and even the drugged up guy at the police station end up being voices of reason.
Jeanie is constantly talking about how it’s not fair that Ferris can get away with everything. Of course it’s not fair, and she does have a right to be upset about it. Hating Ferris for it is a little extreme, but that’s just it. None of the “voices of reason” in this film are balanced. They are all just unreliable enough to make the audience shrug it off and continue to root for Ferris. This goes back to that good character development thing I was talking about earlier. If these characters didn’t have obvious flaws, we would be too eager to believe them and wouldn’t care whether or not Ferris got caught, but I digress. Jeanie has reason to feel that it is not fair that Ferris gets away with everything, which brings us to drugged up guy. He is also a voice of reason by telling Jeanie that while she may not like that her brother gets away with everything she shouldn’t hate him for it and should try to loosen up and live a little bit more herself, instead of locking herself up with anger at her brother and living her life believing she is a victim (advice she takes pretty much immediately when the two start flirting and then she helps Ferris at the end of the movie). Of course, this brings us to Cameron. He says multiple times the things that we would all say if we had a friend like Ferris: “I’m too sick to go anywhere” “We can’t take the car”, etc. But because these ideas are presented to the audience through Cameron, who is established early on as someone who worries too much, we choose to ignore him even though what he is saying makes perfect sense. In case you haven’t been able to tell yet, Cameron is my favorite character.
This movie is fun and ridiculous, and a great movie for a much needed break. However, we can’t quite forget the expectations of the real world due to how often they are repeated back to us by characters trying to knock some sense into Ferris. This movie helps us escape the real world for a little while without letting us fully forget that we all have responsibilities. We get to feel like a teenager again, if only for a couple of hours.