John Hughes, Cameron, and the “Heart” of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Image result for cameron frye
photo courtesy of Shrink Tank

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is a classic comedy. Make no mistake about it. The story of a teenager ditching school & going on an adventure in the city of Chicago, packing more fun into a single day than most kids would need a summer vacation for is timeless. Writer/Director John Hughes was a true master at capturing the lives, hopes, dreams, & emotions of teenagers and in Ferris Bueller he was firing on all cylinders.

It is this writer’s opinion that John Hughes is the most underrated filmmaker of all time. His movies like “The Breakfast Club”, “Pretty in Pink”, and “Weird Science” all mix the absurdity and seriousness of our teenage years. “Ferris” is exceptional in this aspect. The absurdity of Ferris’ day off almost makes “Star Wars” look realistic in comparison but is done so well that we accept it. It also comes off as Hughes’ love letter to the city of Chicago. Shot almost entirely in wide angle, we see sweeping aerial shots of the skyline as well as several wide angle close ups of the main characters. Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane all appear childlike in these shots with the large city landscape looming around them.

One scene sprinkled in between all of the hilarity of the day off really gives the movie so much heart & depth. It involves Cameron. The scene at the Art Institute of Chicago is truly a masterpiece. Set to “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” by The Dream Academy, it is a silent montage of the 3 friends roaming through the halls of classic art masterpieces. At one point they even join a line of children about a decade younger than them as they hold hands touring the museum. The scene concludes with Cameron facing Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” In a wide shot Cameron stares at the painting. Then in alternating close ups we see he is staring at the child in the painting who is in turn staring back at him until the shot is an extreme close up of Cameron’s eyes. The scene then cuts back to an extreme close up of the child’s eyes until it fades to the next scene. In these close ups actor Alan Ruck does an incredible job of bringing out all of Cameron’s emotions. His facial expressions juxtaposed with the painting convey Cameron’s anger, sadness, & anxiety about his life at home. After this scene we no longer see Cameron as just a worry wart who is inferior to Ferris but we see him as someone who has so much potential but is really drowning in the pain caused by his dysfunctional relationship with his father.

John Hughes knew teenagers and he knew comedy. But he also knew how to tell a story about real human emotions felt by teenagers. Something that no has done as well before or since his run of movies in the 1980’s.

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