While certainly one of the most legitimately carefree films in John Hughes’s totally-‘80s teen canon (and probably the one least bogged down by proto-emo navel-gazing), the hooky-happy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is also the most ensconced in its hermetic upper-middle-class suburban milieu. Yes, Ferris (Matthew Broderick, in a star-making, smug-as-a-button performance) deigns to yank his hypochondriac best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) and his younger girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) out of their comfort zone and into the real world of downtown beat city (“now now,” as the Flowerpot Men command on the soundtrack), and, yes, he skips school, hacks computers, jumps up on parade floats, and steals Cameron’s father’s little red Ferrari, but legitimate escape is never on the menu at the Chez Snob, or whatever the name was of that restaurant where the Sausage King of Chicago lost his reservation.
Ferris’s sociological experiments aren’t a response to his desperately dead-end existence because, as he admits, his parents’ money has him college-bound and on the high road to middle management. Instead, for all the breaking-rules posturing the film feigns and reinforces with Jeffrey Jones’s grotesque dean of students, there is nothing remotely dangerous or, ultimately, particularly vindicating about a scenario that so faithfully adheres to the supremacy of the American suburb enclave. So long as he doesn’t snort coke or suck off the football team, Ferris’s upbringing allows him the luxury of flitting all he wants like he actually earns his joie de vivre, all the while knowing that at the end of the day he can still enjoy his living-room-sized bedroom in his small mansion on a street where the rude life of the city (i.e. the minority valets) he crassly exploits by day is safely twentysomething miles away and where his mother will always be there to tuck him back in and make him soup after she gets herself settled. (That she’s a working mother—“get settled” is a phrase that just about induces goose pimples of recognition to kids that had a few hours after school alone before their parents got back—is undercut in one fell swoop by this quintessentially domestic gesture.)
That said, one has to marvel at just how perfectly Hughes nails his frustratingly entitled mise-en-scène, which he unquestionably does in the film’s mesmerizing detour inside an art museum, while still maintaining a lightly satirical tone. If suburban America is depicted as being remarkably kind to young white affluent males, it’s also a source of endless nuisance for people who aren’t—namely Ed Rooney (Jones), who, throughout the course of the film, devolves from a man at the top of his game to a car-less, wallet-less, shoeless joke, flinging a nerdy student’s warm Gummi Bear in a final, pathetic display of squandered power.