(So I slightly plagiarise myself here, another article for The Oxstu and a further case of me letting my love for ’80s films be known. See also 5 of the best ’80s teen movies, where you can vote for your favourite).
If there were any teenage boys by the end of the ’80s who didn’t want to be Marty McFly they probably wanted to be Ferris Bueller. In 1986 John Hughes, a man who couldn’t leave his teen angst behind him, stepped behind the camera to helm his fourth film: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The irresistible Ferris (Matthew Broderick in a Golden Globe nominated performance) decides that skipping school 8 times in a semester isn’t enough – he needs another day off.
Last Friday, Oxford’s Hacked Off Films took over the English Faculty building to provide an immersive screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Accordingly, lecture theatre two traded Shakespeare and literary theory for confetti, balloons and neon leggings. (Though to be honest it was sort of difficult to tell those members of the audience who had made a conscious effort to dress in ‘80s fashions from those who were simply being their eccentric selves).
Hacked Off films provided simple but smart additions to Hughes’ cult favourite, including Ferris-endorsed snacks of Pepsi and Oreos, a surprise ‘Twist and Shout’ performance from the Society of Oxford Ukulele Players (SOUP) and actors campaigning to ‘save Ferris’. The best of these interactive elements was a restaging of the film’s roll call; the names of the actual audience were called by an actor impersonating the teacher originally played by Ben Stein, culminating in the infamous and monotonous ‘Bueller…Bueller…Bueller’.
Broderick’s performance is famed for ‘breaking the fourth wall’, making the film a fitting choice for an immersive screening. However, the event also follows an ongoing tendency of referencing ‘80s movies in current film and TV: Mark Schwahn dedicated a themed episode of his US show One Tree Hill to the memory of John Hughes, and Will Gluck’s 2010 comedy Easy A is packed with allusions to the work of Hughes and his contemporaries. The relative failure of remakes Fame and Footloose compared to the longevity of popularity enjoyed by the originals and other hits including Sixteen Candles and Dirty Dancing suggests that earlier filmmakers expressed the throes of adolescence better than their 21st century followers.
While the outfits and slang may have dated, the insights are timeless. This is because writer/directors like Hughes and Joel Schumacher (creator of the underrated St. Elmo’s Fire) were not afraid to put a group of actors in a room and just let them talk. When the dialogue is snappy, the characters rounded and relatable, and the actors as talented as the likes of Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson and more Brat Pack greats than there’s space to mention, audiences don’t need visual gimmicks to engage them. These films are remembered for exuberant musical and gymnastic set-pieces – EE adverts prove Kevin Bacon is still cashing in on his in 1984’s Footloose – but the long-lasting impact comes from hard-hitting monologues like those shared by the characters of The Breakfast Club.
‘80s teen movies are unashamedly melodramatic, but watching them prepares us for life’s inevitable disappointments while allowing us to laugh at the same time. Not only is fun consistently poked at authority figures (Ferris’ Ed Rooney and The Breakfast Club’s Mr Vernon), but more importantly, the underdogs win every time; Pretty in Pink’s Cinderella figure Andi Walsh (the iconic Molly Ringwald) snags the school stud (shame he’s not worth the effort), and Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future changes history so Marty’s dad can overpower the repulsive Biff.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off encourages us to take a well-earned day off once in a while, because ‘life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it’.