director John Hughes
I hadn’t seen a John Hughes movie in nearly 15 years. But not having seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in however many years it had actually been hadn’t dulled the memories of John Hughes’ best film (or maybe it’s a tie with Sixteen Candles (1984).)
John Hughes has become synonymous with the 1980’s. He certainly is the key figure in American teen comedies of that period, creating key elements of the period’s zeitgeist, perhaps, rather than capturing them. At one point in film school, a friend and I proposed doing a John Hughes class. It’s one of those things that I wish we had actually done. It would probably be as popular today as ever. Eighties nostalgia rides high still.
I was of the prime age for John Hughes movies. I was 15 when Sixteen Candles came out, 16 when The Breakfast Club (1985) and Weird Science (1985) came out, and 17 for Ferris Bueller. I also saw the films Pretty in Pink (1986) and Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), which are clearly part of the John Hughes canon, though only written by Hughes.
I’ve actually been thinking about watching Ferris Bueller and Sixteen Candles with the kids. We’ve been watching Freaks and Geeks, Felix and I, and he’s been enjoying the comedy.
Ferris Beuller is a lark. It’s got some of the most memorable jokes, asides, gags, and moments of Hughes’ oeuvre. I don’t even need to mention them. You know them. And they are funny. The film has a great deal of funny bits.
Matthew Broderick is pretty perfect as the boy who can do no wrong, get away with any crime. I vividly remember taking my girlfriend’s parents to see the movie and how much they laughed at it. Felix enjoyed it too. It’s holds up well.
But it is funny how Ferris Bueller is such a narcissist, a spoiled Reagan-era rich kid, who for all his wit and intelligence, doesn’t actually seem to have a soul. He leads the kind of day that anyone might envy, driving his friend’s father’s amazing rare convertible, taking out his lovely young girlfriend, hitting a Cubs game and catching a foul ball, the Chicago Art Institute, some fancy dining, and singing on a float during a parade in downtown Chicago. It’s the fantasy of everything going right, getting away with everything, having your enemies caked in mud and sent to jail while you get away scott-free.
The soul of the movie is more within Cameron (Alan Ruck), his best friend. Cameron comes along for the ride, but is very much in the sidecar. He’s got now girlfriend, and ultimately he’s the one who will have to pay the piper for wrecking his father’s treasured automobile.
It’s kind of funny how much this movie almost begs analysis.
I feel to do it better justice, I’d have to revisit other Hughes films, which maybe I will. I don’t personally have the overly sentimental adoration for his films that some do. I think I like him best at hist most humorous, comedic entertainment. I do not think him the voice of the generation (he was a bit old to be a representative himself, rather an interpreter.)
As I suggested above, I think his films are more emblems of the time rather than true snapshots. I don’t know that I’ve ever really related to his characters, but rather have seen them as character types, recognizable impressions of a sort of person, not really fully developed, relatable beings. And in his best work, they don’t need to be.
John Hughes did make a number of key 1980’s films, crafted a style that has come to be utterly identified with that period, and has a well-deserved place in our cultural consciousness. Oft-imitated but never duplicated, one might even say. Certainly worth revisiting. Certainly worth digging into.
And fun, too.