The first time I watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it was exhilarating. It was a half-term break – my mum sat me down and brandished a DVD. “If you like coming-of-age movies,” she told me, “this one is the best.” Still reeling from the climactic genius of The Fault in Our Stars, I was sceptical. It was 2014: what could beat John Green?

Ten years later though, Ferris Bueller still holds a special space in my heart. John Hughes’ adolescent epic follows a maverick teenager and his friends in their mission to bunk off from school for a day. Ferris is the golden child, loved by all, and delights in fooling not only his parents into thinking he’s ill via an elaborate performance, but also the entire school. Only his sister Jeanie, enraged by his audacity, and his near-psychopathic headmaster see through him. As they roll along the streets of Chicago, the teens get into all types of trouble: they fake a reservation at a high-end restaurant, sneak into a Chicago Cubs game, and crash a street parade, as Ferris jumps onto a float and lipsyncs ‘Twist and Shout’ by The Beatles. Their defiance against authority, against adults and the affluent, suffocating suburbs, makes youth seem like an endless party – drinks on the house, so long as you can dash away before the bill.

“Drinks on the house, so long as you can dash away before the bill”

This was news to me. As a pre-teen at boarding school in the thick hills of East Sussex, every second of life felt constrained; days were dictated by sign-out sheets, strict curfews, and highly censored internet access; the nearest town was twenty minutes away, and reachable only by the one bus that swung by every hour (always late, if it ever showed up at all). As a scholarship kid, too, there was no room for failure. If there was a character that I most related to in the film, it was more the anxiety-ridden Cameron than Ferris: neurotic, hypochondriac, and begrudgingly coerced into playing truant.

I thought that university would be the way forward; the break for freedom that had had me salivating in after-school study sessions. There, I thought, I could finally catch up with those mythic teens who had flounced around 80s high schools – those kids who lived their lives through utter irreverence. I wanted their carelessness, their freedom. I had somehow pictured my uni experience as somewhere between a John Hughes romance, 22 Jump Street (aiming for realism), and Starter For Ten. But in 2020, my first year experience boasted fewer house parties than my grandmother’s house on a Sunday, and the very concept of freedom of movement became literally illegal. I also failed the tryouts for University Challenge. When Channel 4 played re-runs of Ferris Bueller, I watched not with aspiration, but sick, curdling envy.

“I wanted their carelessness, their freedom”

Beyond those first, COVID-ridden months of university, Cambridge has stayed true to its main draw: “academic rigour”. When you see your mates at Bristol living wildly through endless, crazy nights out, complaining about their single weekly lecture as they swan around Switzerland for their reading week, one can only grit one’s teeth at Sidgwick Site and bear it. There is no time to skip class. There is, it seems, no time to do anything – you watch in regret as you miss yet another pub quiz, yet another Slipped Disc or open-mic night, for a lovely evening spent at the library. Where is Charlie Sheen? Where’s the Aerosmith soundtrack? How long will it take for Matthew Broderick to speed up to the front gates of college and whisk you away?


Mountain View

A trip to the Eagle with Mark Kermode

In the end, after stealing it for the gang’s intrepid adventures, Cameron accidentally destroys his father’s car. When Ferris, uncharacteristically guilt-stricken, offers to take the fall for it, he refuses. He is weirdly calm. “No. I’ll take it. I want it.” The film isn’t just about teenage angst and idiocy – despite all its ridiculousness, Ferris Bueller is really about growing up. Perhaps this means finding the strength to stand up for yourself – to face the things that scare you, to find beauty in the little moments, and to love your friends, even when they inadvertently ruin a bit of your life. Can Ferris Bueller’s Day Off offer some much-needed escapism from the exhaustion of a Cambridge term? Of course – but perhaps we should look a little further. Ferris reminds us that, in searching for the future, maybe we should embrace a bit more of the present. Who am I to say if this movie will make a Ferris Bueller out of you? After all, there’s no shame in not wrecking your dad’s Ferrari (or, I guess, his Ford Fiesta). But it still might just remind you of some of life’s more daring pleasures.

Arts Picturehouse is screening Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on Monday 4th December at 18:00, in partnership with the Watersprite Film Festival.