I don’t think I saw Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in theaters. I was 11 at the time it came out so I may have been just a tad too young for the movie when it came out, though I’m sure it wasn’t long after it came out on home video before I finally corrected that error since I do know it was one of the movies I watched countless times on cable and VHS at my grandparents’ house on summer afternoons. And, as many others in my generation had, I became enamored of Ferris’ hijinks, seeing him as the epitome of the cool high school kid. I’ve watched it countless times over the years and goshdarnit, the movie still holds up, a testament to the casting, writing and directing of the late John Hughes, who crafted a timeless story of youthful rebellion against assigned roles and the arbitrary rules of adults.
The movie, as you all know, tells the story of Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), a righteous dude. Ferris decides that the day is too valuable to waste in high school and so fakes a sickness to take the day off. He enlists best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend Simone (Mia Sara) to join him in his adventures, which wind up including a trip to downtown Chicago where they visit Wrigley Field, the Sears Tower, the Art Institute and more. Along the way they have to duck not only Ferris’ father, who they keep almost running into, but also Principal Rooney, who is convinced Ferris is faking it and sets out to bust him and bring the truant to justice. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the movie’s release and is being celebrated by Ferris Fest this weekend in Chicago, an event organized by a few devoted fans who have arranged for some of the movie’s stars to show up as well as tours of the locations famously documented in the movie, making it a great time to revisit the movie’s marketing campaign.
The one-sheet for the movie is pretty simple but lays out the story’s value proposition pretty clearly. It simply shows a smug, smiling Broderick lounging and looking directly at the camera. In big bold type at the top we’re told “Leisure Rules,” which is true. That message is reinforced below the title treatment with copy that explains the movie is about “One man’s struggle to take it easy.” So the movie is clearly setup as the adventures of a self-satisfied young man who’s out for nothing more than to buck the system and enjoy himself as much as possible.
The poster, as much as the eventual movie would, made Broderick a star and positions him as such. He’d only been in a handful of movies and TV shows up to this point – most notably WarGames, though we can’t discount LadyHawke and the underrated classic Max Dugan Returns – but his ability to open a movie was likely in doubt. WarGames was three years prior to this and he’d been mostly on TV in the intervening years. So putting him and his smile right there on the one-sheet was, it’s safe to assume, a dicey proposition.
Compare that to the trailer, which takes the opposite approach. While it opens with Ferris explaining how life moves pretty fast, most of the spot involves other people talking *about* Ferris, with just a half-dozen shots of Bueller himself. So this is more about selling the story than selling the star or the performance. Instead it wants to position the title character at the center of some myth that we then are told we need to check out the reality of in theaters.
That’s a slightly surprising approach but it also makes some sense in light of the movie itself. The whole story is about that: The myth of Bueller. That’s what drives the movie forward as much as anything else. The kids of school believe in it, his sister resents it, the principal wants to squash it and his parents are blissfully unaware of it. That persona is what drives him to believe he can get away with what he tries. The movie isn’t about Ferris Bueller as much as it is about Ferris Bueller’s id, the part of him that does what he wants when he wants it and refuses to be shoehorned into society’s norms, at least not before he’s railed against them as much as possible.
What’s surprising in looking back at this from the perspective of 2016 is that Bueller is still kind of shown as a scofflaw. These days the kind of behavior he engages in would make him a Vine star, not someone who is still kind of shown as an outlaw. The Bueller attitude has gone mainstream and parents would now sue a school district that tried to rein in their creative sweetheart.
Happy 30th – or actually like 48th – birthday to Ferris Bueller and the movie that inspired countless groups of idiot teenagers to try and recreate that iconic pose of Ferris, Cameron and Simone in the Art Institute and yell “Hey batter batter batter…” while at Cubs games.