The Movies Made Me Do It: Confessions of a Film Actor (Issue #3)

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” by Banalities is licensed under CC BY 2.0

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, 1986, PG-13— I think we were all Cameron Fryes growing up. We wanted to be like Ferris Bueller. Maybe some of us were, wearing the swagger and confidence on our sleeves, but deep down, feeling insecure about ourselves, our future, how we fit into the greater wheel of life, etc. I look to John Hughes films a lot as a source of inspiration for acting. Growing up with them were great because the performances were powerful, revealing primal emotions and universal messages. There’s a lot of karma at work in this movie. For the key players, there’s either a lesson or a human fact that arises, and we watch to see if they pass the test or not.

For Ferris, it’s seeing his friend Cameron in a different light, as someone tortured and afraid, who really needed a day off to grow up and learn more about himself. Another thing: his ultimate acceptance that Cameron has to process his problems by his own way. By his own rite of passage.

For Cameron, it’s about standing up to his father, whom we never really know or understand, except through Cameron’s explanations throughout the film. It’s also about not being afraid in general.

For Jeanie, Ferris’s stuck up, jealous sister, it’s about worrying less about others, including her brother, and allow more self care into her life, much like Cameron. Competition with siblings isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

For Mr. Rooney, as the dogged, sinister principal out to bust Ferris for skipping school, it’s about failing to enforce the system of conventionality. It could also be about claiming what was never his to begin with: being cool and rebellious.

The list goes on, but the important thing that resonates with so many audiences about this movie is that life moves pretty fast. And if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. I did skip school too. Several times. Because I was “sick.” But I didn’t go out to town to celebrate. I stayed home. Laid in bed. And watched Ferris Bueller.

I love Cameron’s moments the most in the film: his con to fool Rooney by disguising his voice as an outraged parent, complete with a New Yorker accent; his opening dialogue, wasting away in bed, about feeling “shredded” and worrying about his diastolic pressure; his pained expressions about his father’s fancy car getting shit on by pigeons; his thousand yard stare at Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon; confessing to Sloane, Ferris’s compassionate girlfriend, about his uncertainty versus Ferris’s confidence; his nervous breakdown that builds to a supposed suicide; then ultimately destroying his father’s car in a moment of extreme rage and pain. Every moment that looks deep into Cameron is where this movie’s voice sings: that growing up is scary. That our futures, as high schoolers about to graduate, is troubling.

Ferris almost seems too good to be true. He has a system, but never seems in a rush to complete it. Time does not concern Ferris. He assures us in his very funny, spirited opening monologues that school is not the only way to learn and enjoy life’s whims and fast lanes. Taking risks are a part of our formative years. Education begins with going to town — that is, downtown Chicago — peering down from high up in the former Sears Tower, eating pancreas at Chez Quis, seeing art at the museum, joining a parade singing Danke Schoen then Twist and Shout, and so on. If it weren’t for someone like Ferris, we wonder if we can or could ever have even graduated high school.

Jeanie is the older brother’s keeper. She hates Ferris. His antics are tiresome. Luck seems to happen like a breeze for him and not for her. Yeah, she got a car while he got a computer, but she acts like the one born under a bad sign. Yet, you can’t help but smile because beneath her contempt and frustration, there’s a light and sweetness that wants to come out. Her Kung-Fu moment with Mr. Rooney in her house, then getting arrested, leads to a moment that was probably destined for her: when Charlie Sheen, playing another arrested teen, gives her pop psychology advice. What a nice moment when she teases him before leaving with her mom from the police station that “a lot of people call me Shanna…” The ‘meanie-Jeanie’ spell is broken. It’s further exemplified when Jeanie saves Ferris at the last minute from the relentless Rooney.

Yes, Mr. Rooney provides the obvious comic relief in the film, with his slapstick antics and clueless investigation into Ferris. He’s the same as the burglars in Home Alone or the other principal in The Breakfast Club. Most adults in John Hughes films were dumb and less dimensional than the teenagers, who were the real focus that Hughes wanted to channel and reveal as misunderstood. But Mr. Rooney represents what teenagers become if they aren’t careful. Always trying to be right. Always using authority to lord over others in an effort to assume control and establishment. Which is why it’s so karmic in his final moments, beat up, the dog attacked, bleeding, sitting on a school bus next to a dorky girl, being offered half-melted gummy bears, while seeing yet another slogan on a student binder that screams ‘Save Ferris.’ Can you say what goes around comes around?

You can go back, watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and see how karma works not only for certain characters but how beautifully it connects them to one another in this grand design. Some change for the better. Some don’t. But the point is that the energy is there. You can worry about life and make it work against you. Or you can let go and ride life in the wonderful way you want and should. That’s why we watch Ferris Bueller over and over. We can forget easily about life lessons but we fondly remember this movie and try to remind ourselves that when the end credits roll. Chick-chick…chick-chica-bowwwwwww…ooooh, bop-bop…ohhhh yeahhhhhhhh…

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Russell Bradley Fenton

I am a film/TV actor for life, screenwriter in development, and film/TV enthusiast.