The Simple Joy of Ferris Bueller

From Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Okay. I’m showing my age here. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a film that came out when I was still in public school. In case you haven’t seen it, it is the story of a high school kid in the mid-1980s who plays hooky with two of his friends, and pretty much has the ultimate vacation week in Chicago packed into a single day. And he gets away with it, because he’s amazingly good at winning friends, influencing people, and pulling off audacious stunts. All the time, he is pursued by a nasty principal and his jealous sister, anxious to catch him in the act so that he can suffer the full consequences of his deception.

The plot is ridiculous. It’s pure wish fulfillment as a kid, nothing more. I’ve read an earlier script that was quite a bit darker than what ended up on the screen in the final cut (Charlie Sheen’s character being one of the last vestiges of the original plan), but IIRC it was still pretty ridiculous and over-the-top.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing.

I have seen some fan-theories that suggest that the whole adventure–and maybe Ferris Bueller himself–was entirely the product of Cameron’s fevered imagination. The rationale? Because it’s impossible. There’s too much stuff to pack into a three-day vacation, let alone a few hours. And of course, it’s crazy to imagine one kid pulling all this stuff off.

John Hughes is sadly no longer with us to ask, but this is the same guy who later brought us a bunch of Home Alone movies with the same level of insane, ridiculous plot. Sure, in contrast with some of his more serious teen films, it’s more over-the-top… Ferris Bueller’s Day Off marked the beginning of a change of style for the popular filmmaker. Again, the darker original script suggests that he had something a bit more in-line with his more angsty teen films like Pretty In Pink or The Breakfast Club.

But this fan theory is… well, dumb, unimaginative, and downright nasty. You may as well assume that all of the Spider-Man movies are Peter Parker’s fever dream when he’s in a coma from radiation poisoning, because a human inheriting a spider’s powers is ridiculous. By that rationale, every single modern-era film with fantasy or science-fiction elements can have the same fan theory: “It was all just a dream.” BORING. Unimaginative. Lame. For that matter, any story in which the hero triumphs in spite of rather spectacular odds can be downgraded to just being someone’s dream or imagination run wild. I remember making that joke the first season of the TV show 24, because there was no way somebody could drive across Los Angeles during rush hour in the ten minutes or so the show indicated.

That is a nasty perspective to have. I hate the idea of relegating everything fantastic, impossible, or even improbable to the realm of lame. Sorry, fan theory people… you have to work a lot harder than that!

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