Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of those classic comedies, the kind that’s looked at as being timeless, the kind that, no matter what year it is, you can guarantee is currently being played in college dorm rooms all over the country. It works both as ’80s nostalgia and as a story that modern kids can relate to. It’s full of quotes and images that have become oft-referenced parts of our pop-culture vocabulary. But, is this tale of a lazy schemer ditching school to spend a day in Chicago with his hot girlfriend and downer of a best friend really all that funny? Or is it just one of those movies that managed to tap into the zeitgeist of its day, and then rode out its initial juice long enough that it’s become cultural comfort food due to widespread re-watches?
If people remember Snow Day at all, it’s likely they remember it as a movie for kids that they didn’t bother seeing. But the few people who have seen it realize that, though it’s a film primarily aimed toward children and tweens, Snow Day is still a satisfying comedy that provides just as many laughs, memorable characters, and affecting moments as any comedy aimed at adults. Which should come as no surprise, because it was put together by a group of guys who worked on the amazing Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete & Pete. So, given the cult status of that show, why is it that I never hear about anyone’s childhood love for Snow Day? Why aren’t any geek conventions putting on hugely attended Snow Day reunions? Chances are, there are a lot of people out there who still need to give this movie a chance.
What do they have in common?
If there’s one thing that pretty much everyone can agree on, it’s that the public school system is the worst. More often than not, attending a day of schooling is a soul-crushing chunk of time spent in a sterile environment that more closely resembles imprisonment than it does entering a nurturing environment where creativity and a thirst for knowledge are cultivated. The protagonists in each of these films are similar in that they go to great lengths to try and avoid their schools. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Matthew Broderick’s eponymous character has been cultivating a fake illness for months. The kids of Snow Day go as far as to sabotage their town’s snow plow to try and earn themselves extra days off. These aren’t movies about your ordinary, everyday slackers, they’re movies about characters who are the absolute best at slacking.
Why is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off overrated?
For being a movie that’s widely known as one of the classic comedies, there aren’t that many things in Ferris Bueller that are actually funny. There aren’t really any gags. Sure, it’s lighthearted, Ferris gets up to shenanigans, Cameron does a funny voice, but funny? The comedy is essentially left up to the Principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) character, whose hunting down of his delinquent students leads him down a rabbit hole of stumbling around, creating awkward misunderstandings, getting gross stuff splattered on him, and getting hit in the balls. It’s the live-action equivalent of a Tom & Jerry cartoon, only less funny.
So what does this movie have going for it, if not comedy? Character development? A little, mostly surrounding the Cameron (Alan Ruck) character. But, when you dissect it, Ferris Bueller is made up of a shocking amount of filler. The only real story is that a couple kids are spending a day in the city – and we really just watch them spend a day in the city. They have lunch, visit the stock exchange, go to a baseball game, go to an art museum – and they don’t really talk about anything substantial or do anything amusing while they’re visiting these places. We just watch them having fun, sometimes in dialogue-free montages. Is this a movie with an engaging conflict and characters worth meeting, or is it just a travel ad for the city of Chicago? It gets hard to tell.
The thing Ferris Bueller has in spades, though, is a smug certainness that you find its main character so charming, you’ll watch him do anything. Nowhere is this better established than in the ridiculous parade scene. We get no explanation for why Ferris would be allowed on a float, given a microphone, and allowed to address the crowd; but he does, and it seems we’re just supposed to accept it, because this teenage kid from the suburbs is so awesome that of course they would let him do anything he wanted. The believability of the situation isn’t what’s so offensive about the scene, however, it’s the belief that we are so enamored with the Bueller character that we’ll be willing to sit through him lip synching not one, but two entire songs. Seriously? Nobody in charge thought that this sequence brought the movie’s momentum to a grinding halt? Save Ferris? More like save us, from him.
Why is Snow Day underpraised?
Seeing as Snow Day’s very first scene is a beautifully executed crane shot that instantly looks more professional than anything you would expect to come from a movie made by a cable channel aimed at children, it doesn’t take long to realize what you’re watching is a step above most children’s programming. Snow Day has impressive camera work, a cast of beloved veteran actors and talented youngsters, and a script that’s full of legit laughs, childhood nostalgia, and teenage characters who are three-dimensional and fleshed out rather than simple, teen movie archetypes. I mean, what other movie has an unobtainable-popular-girl-dating-the-stupid-jock character who’s as genuinely nice and generally perceptive as Emmanuelle Chriqui’s Claire? There’s nothing cookie-cutter happening here.
Quite the opposite, really. While most teen movies are there to simply glorify the carefree idiocy of youth, Snow Day is a movie about teenage characters that actually has a really good message at its core. Teenagers are awful, self-obsessed, awkward little shits who think that their social lives are the center of the universe. While a movie like Ferris Bueller glorifies their short-sighted, never-gonna-die, lack-of-planning-in-the-face-of-an-uncertain-future attitudes, Snow Day makes fun of how misguided teenage priorities are. It presents the main character’s obsession on a crush as being shallow and immature, it glorifies being adventurous and creative instead of naval gazing, and it gives us a hilarious scene where a misguided doofus kisses an ankle bracelet while listening to Foreigner. Now that’s funny.
The obvious, apparent way that you can tell Snow Day is a movie that has been unjustly ignored, however, is just by taking a look at its cast and seeing how great everyone is. This may be the only good thing that Chevy Chase was involved in during that long, dark period between his being a beloved comedian and his glorious Community comeback. He’s absolutely charming here. Chris Elliott is great when he’s playing creepy and weird, and watching a kid’s movie allow him to indulge himself in creepy weirdness like maybe no other project he’s ever done has is pure bliss. His Snowplowman is one of the greatest screen villains of the last twenty years. When you factor in that this movie also has Iggy Pop playing a creepy ice rink attendant who makes the kids listen to Al Martino, things start to be too good to be true. I’m not even going to go into how gorgeous Chriqui is playing the object of affection, less this article start to get gross.
Evening the odds.
What are you going to have your kids watch when you’re trying to brew a healthy recklessness and distaste of schooling into them? Personally, I want them breathing in the glorification of adventure and imagination in Snow Day, not taking to heart the self-important fear of the unknown and over reliance on temporary relationships that takes place in Ferris Bueller. Let’s breed a new generation of warriors, not another generation of snarky Internet people trying to avoid work.