Cinema’s Ultimate Jerks is a celebration of the characters we love to hate in the movies we love to love. They’re not always the main villains – and sometimes they’re not even villains at all – but they’re definitely jerks. So let’s take a look at this week’s jerk-off, and why they find themselves forever enshrined here in the hall of shame. Also, since I’m not a jerk, this is your spoiler warning for the 1986 movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
An obnoxious, lying, conniving teenager bunks off school and goes on a city-wide rampage after stealing a car from the father of his best friend, and he’s the good guy here? Thanks to a combination of Matthew Broderick’s charming portrayal of the titular protagonist, Ferris Bueller, and just how much of a total jerk his nemesis, Principal Ed Rooney is – yes. Yes, he is.
So the day begins like any other. The coolest kid in school, Ferris Bueller, decides he fancies a day off from teachers, learning, and books. Now, in my day, this involved standing and waiting at the school bus stop until approximately four seconds after my parents were out of sight and then just walking home to spend my ill-gotten day’s reprieve playing Tekken 2 and eating Pringles. Ferris Bueller’s plan for a day off from school involves fake illnesses, mannequins, tape recorders, an array of levers and pulleys, numerous phone calls pretending to be grown ups, faking the death of a grandmother, and the aforementioned theft of a car. It’s elaborate. But hey, maybe that’s what life was like in America in the ’80s. Let’s not split hairs.
Ferris Bueller manages to trick his doting parents into believing that he’s too sick to go to school, but once Principal Ed Rooney learns that Ferris is a no show, he decides to prove that there’s nothing wrong with him. You see, this isn’t the first sick day Ferris Bueller has had. He’s been off school through illness numerous times without his parents knowing, and Ed Rooney, sick of Bueller getting away with it, decides to make it his personal mission to catch the truant in the act and make sure that his parents find out all about it. Ferris, possessing an apparently genius level intellect and the ability to, pretty much, do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and never get into any trouble, is always just one step ahead of the vengeful principal. If Ed wasn’t such a jerk then we’d probably feel sorry for him, but he’s an enormous jerk, so we don’t.
And so begins the game of cat and mouse. Ed Rooney goes to his computer to see how many sick days Ferris Bueller has had, and as if by magic, via the power of the Internet, Ferris Bueller is changing the numbers on the fly to make it look like he has perfect attendance. Ed gets a phone call from someone claiming to be Ferris’ girlfriend’s father announcing the death of her grandmother, and naturally assuming it’s Ferris making excuses for her to leave, he’s astonishingly rude to him, only for Ferris to call up on another line and leave Rooney grovelling to who he believes is a grieving father (it’s actually Ferris’ best friend). Ed Rooney decides that Ferris Bueller must be behind everything bad that’s happened to him that day, so he breaks into Ferris’ house, clubs the family the dog, and th- wait, what?
Yeah, you can kinda sympathise with Mr. Rooney up to a point. It’s his job to make sure that kids are attending school and getting a proper education, and seeing a know-it-all like Ferris Bueller constantly circumventing the rules must be utterly infuriating. But know when you’re beaten, man. Ferris is one step ahead every time, and Ed just keeps trying, each humiliation he suffers making him ever so slightly more unhinged. It’s basically the plot of Moby Dick, except this guy is Ahab, and Matthew Broderick is the massive whale. By the end, when it looks like he might have finally caught Ferris in the act, he starts monologuing like a Bond villain which ultimately leads to his undoing. He’s a spiteful, sanctimonious prick, and he just doesn’t know when to quit. Also he whacked a dog in the head with a plant pot to knock it out cold, which is kinda not cool when you’re the one breaking into the house in the first place.
Jerk-Off Quote: “Les jeux sont faits. Translation: the game is up. Your ass is mine.” – Ed Rooney, immediately before all of his plans are foiled.
Comeuppance: The entire movie is comeuppance for poor ol’ Ed. He stumbles from one humiliation to the next, culminating in being mauled in hilarious fashion by Ferris Bueller’s dog, which he had previously attacked with a plant pot. Utterly defeated, the dishevelled principal begins the long, lonely walk home since his car was lost to Ferris Bueller-related misadventure earlier in the movie. The driver of the school bus sees him and slows down to pick him up and he’s forced to walk to the back of the bus, surrounded by kids staring at him, judged by his subjects, in a harrowing portrait of defeat.
Jerk-Off Rating: The guy who played Ed Rooney wound up getting arrested for child porn. So not quite that bad, but you know, still a jerk.
Tune in next week – same jerk time, same jerk channel – to find out who’s next in our celebration of cinema’s ultimate jerks.