7 December 1998
John Hughes's movies over the years have evolved into not so great an art form, it can actually be said that they de-evolved if there is such a thing. John Hughes was at his height in the middle of the decade known as the eighties. Those films brought out the emotions and anxieties of the 15 and 16 year olds who Hughes himself is quoted in saying, " were not being served well by his generation"( Barth 46 ). Hughes was evidently referring to his contemporaries who apparently were not portraying youth in the light which Hughes believed they should be portrayed. Hughes made a series of five pictures beginning in 1984 and culminating in 1986 which truly are some of the strongest films of the "Teen Flick" era. They are Sixteen Candles(1984), The Breakfast Club(1985), Weird Science(1985), Pretty in Pink(1986), and finally Ferris Bueller's Day Off(1986). Ferris is a film which includes all of the quintessential things included in a Hughes teen picture. It also follows the certain tropes and commonalties which link these five of Hughes' movies together very tightly. Ferris Bueller's Day Off summarizes and typifies what it meant to be a teen in the eighties through all of its cinematic splendor.
John Hughes, writer, director, producer, and actor ( playing Brian's father at the end of The Breakfast Club) has built up a resounding career. The career essentially began when in 1979 he was employed into the offices of National Lampoon as an editor. He went on to write his first few movies including Nate and Hayes, Mr. Mom, and the successful Vacation. After Vacation Hughes made his directorial debut in the form of Sixteen Candles(1984) starring Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael¬ Hall, and John Cusack. Hughes went on to make two more pictures with Hall( The Breakfast Club and Weird Science) and two more with Ringwald( The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink ). Hughes originally wanted Hall to star as Ferris in Ferris, but Hall turned down the part because he did not want to be typecast. Instead the role went to Matthew Broderick (Project X, Godzilla), and Hall never got a decent roll again. Hughes says that when writing films he never sits down and thinks things like, "Wouldn't it be funny if" Hughes reaches deep into himself and pulls out things that other people were also thinking; he writes with stories and characters like Hitchcock or Capra, his idols(Barth 46). The master of intelligent teenpix in the eighties truly was John Hughes( Cook 947).
The culmination of John Hughes' hard work throughout the mid-eighties all comes together in Ferris Bueller's Day Off(1986). Ferris is "one man's struggle to take it easy" as the newspaper add from June 11, 1986 ( its release date) suggests. It is the story of Ferris Bueller(Matthew Broderick) a 17 year old senior living in a north suburban suburb of Chicago. He hates going to high school because he feels it is "childish and stupid." Ferris decides to fake an illness for the ninth time of the semester and take the day off. He fools his parents, but cannot put anything past his sister Jeanie Bueller (Jennifer Grey). Jeanie claims that if she was bleeding out of her eyes, her parents would still make her go to school. Everyone leaves the house, and Ferris gets out of bed in perfect health. He phones up his best friend Cameron Frye(Alan Ruck), who is legitimately sick, explains his plan, and requests that Cameron come over and pick him up. Ferris not only wants Cameron to spend the day with him, but he also wants to get Sloan Peterson(Mia Sara), his girlfriend who is a junior in high school, out of school. Ferris invents this scheme about Sloan's grandmother dying and wants Cameron to impersonate Sloan's father, Sgt. George Peterson of the Chicago Police, and make a phony phone call to Principle of Shermer High School Edward Rooney(Jeffrey Jones). Ferris' plan works, but his next task is to find an automobile which Rooney would believe Sloan's dad drives. Him and Cameron go back to Cameron's house and "borrow" Morris Frye's rare 1961 Ferrari California( less than 100 were made). Cameron's dad, Morris, loves that car more than life itself. Ferris picks Sloan up, they go downtown and do many things. Ferris, Cameron, and Sloan go to the Cubs Game, the Art Institute of Chicago, Chez Louie( the same restaurant his dad goes to), the Sears Tower, and to the German Day Parade where Ferris sings "Twist and Shout" by the Beatles. All the while, Rooney has become suspicious and is searching for Ferris. Jeanie, too, has broken out of school and is wondering where he is. Ferris is leaving Chicago when he realizes that too many miles were put on the Ferrari ( it went from 126 between 3 and 4 tenths to 304 miles). Cameron goes berserk, he finally breaks out of it only to crash the Ferrari through the back of his garage. Jeanie, meanwhile, has been picked up by the Police after reporting Rooney breaking into her house, and ends up making-out with a drugged out fellow ( Charlie Sheen). Ferris ends up having to run home and makes it there just before his parents walk into his Bedroom.
Ferris portrays life at Shermer High School in all of its boring glory. It does an excellent job of showing just how boring High School was. From Ben Stein's rambling about voodoo economics, to the other teacher's ramblings about European Socialism. Ferris has never been to Europe, nor is he socialist, he could be a fascist anarchist, but that still wouldn't change the fact that he doesn't own a car. The professors at his school speak in a slow and boring manner, which is apparently representative of all teachers in schools. Molly Ringwald's teacher in Sixteen Candles is so boring that she would rather pass notes about who she would like to sleep with. Not only do Hughes' movies portray teachers as extremely boring it portrays the administrators as being very mean and maniacal. The character of Edward Rooney in Ferris is a key example. Rooney does not believe anything until he has seen it, he threatens to keep Ferris in high school for many years to come. Rooney even breaks into Ferris' house to prove that Ferris is faking. He goes to great lengths to be a menace to his students. Another evil figure of authority is Richard Vernon( Paul Gleason) who is administering the Saturday detention in The Breakfast Club. He is constantly bugging them and prodding them and is especially harsh to Judd Nelson's character Jon Bender. Judd is the deviant member of The Breakfast Club and is constantly talking back to Vernon, Judd is also someone who John Hughes has said he never wants to work with again. Vernon brings Bender to tears when he locks him up inside a storage room and threatens Bender to punch him. That is about the extent of the authority figures that John¬ Hughes attacks. He also attacks the secretaries of High Schools in the character of Grace ( Edie McClurg) in Ferris. He portrays her as being moronic and rude to the students just like all High School secretaries are. Hughes attacks the janitors as well. Carl the janitor from The Breakfast Club is seen as being a figure which knows all and sees all. He has access to anything and everything about the students. Hughes, in a way, portrays the Janitorial figure as being someone much greater than originally perceived. There is an exchange in lines where Carl says hi to Brian Ralph Johnson ( Hall's character) and Bender tells Johnson that he didn't know his dad worked here( John Hughes humor). Now Hughes moves from the employees of the school to the employers of the employees,¬ the kids, the teens, the students, the misunderstood.
John Hughes' teenage characters can be divided into quite a few different personalities. There are the characters with fathers who misunderstand them in Cameron Frye who has to take a stand, in Jon Bender who is often neglected and harmed by his father and in Andrew Clarke ( Emilio Esteves in The Breakfast Club) who is constantly having more and more pressure put on him by his father. A key sequence in Ferris where Cameron exhibits this most is the one of the later scenes where they are rotating the wheels of the Ferrari backwards with the hopes of taking off the miles, and Cameron kicks it out the back of the garage. Cameron then delivers an emotional speech about taking a stand against his more than strict father. That is what everyone with a domineering father would like to do, especially a father who gets mad for breaking your retainer ( that was a piece of plastic, the Ferrari is a fine automobile). There is the teen who is just trying to fit in. This is exhibited in both Gary and Wyatt from Weird Science, who with the aide of a girl of their creation (Lisa) are able to get the girls. There is the Geek also known as Farmer Ted ( played brilliantly by Anthony Michael Hall) in Sixteen Candles, who also is trying to be accepted by his peers. Jon Cryer's character Ducky from Pretty in Pink is also an outcast and just wants to fit in. And then there are Molly Ringwald's characters in both Sixteen Candles and in Pretty in Pink who are constantly pursuing a boy and at the same time trying to be with the "in" crowd. Eventually, in the end, all of these teens trying to fit in realize who they really are and who their friends should be. The people who really count also see these characters for who they are rather than just focusing on their exterior or their material possessions. In both of Molly Ringwald's instances she is being pursued by the nerd in the form of Hall or Cryer, but eventually wins over the heart of the stud she has been wanting to be with for the entire film in the form of Jake Ryan( Sixteen Candles)or Andrew McCarthy's character in Pretty in Pink. It is usually the case that the nerd must realize that they were being selfish in wanting Ringwald all for themselves and give the go ahead for her to get her dreamy hunk. These films also exhibit parents who are totally clueless about everything. Ferris' parents cannot even see through his ninth sick scheme, and Samantha Baker's parents ( Sixteen Candles) forget all about her sixteenth birthday. There is the younger sibling of the main character who does not care anything about their older brother or sister. At the beginning of The Breakfast Club, Johnson's sister says, "Yeah" just after her mother says the same, and in Sixteen Candles it is clearly evident that Samantha's younger brother doesn't give a care about the fact that she missed her sixteenth birthday. Finally there is the older brother or sister who in the¬ beginning is jealous or hates the main character, but in the end through one experience or another learns to accept them and love them. Those characters come in the form of Chet( Bill Paxon) in Weird Science and Jeanie in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
Through Ferris, and the other movies discussed it is quite clear that John Hughes is a master at expressing all forms of teenagers in the best way he knows how. He himself said that he wrote Sixteen Candles from the female point of view( Barth 46). The only way he can write about what is inside the minds of teenagers is to think like one himself. Hughes, through his movies, shows that he has a love of fine automobiles ( Porsche, Ferrari), a love of the Beatles ( Lennon references abundant), and a hate for all those who oppose and walk on his teenage main characters( teachers). Hughes is a master of what he does and nails each character's anxieties, feelings, and personality from Samantha Baker to Ferris Bueller.
Barth, Jack. "John Hughes: On Geeks Baring Gifts." Film Comment May-June 1984: 46.
Breakfast Club, The. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Paul Gleason, Ally Sheedy, and Emilio Esteves. Universal, 1985.
Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. New York: Norton & Co., 1996.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Matthew Broderick, Mia Sara, and Alan Ruck. Paramount Pictures, 1986.
Katz. "Katz biography: John Hughes ( Director, Producer, Screenwriter)." TV gen. On-line. Internet. 7 December 1998. Available URL: http://www.tvgen.com.
Pretty in Pink. Dir. Howard Deutch. Perf. Jon Cryer, and Molly Ringwald. Paramount Pictures, 1986.
Sixteen Candles. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, and John Cusack. Universal, 1984.
Weird Science. Dir. John Hughes. Perf. Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Anthony Michael Hall, Bill Paxon, and Kelly LeBrock. Universal, 1985.