' Cinema Romantico: In Memoriam

Friday, August 07, 2009

In Memoriam

"What can be said for (John Hughes) is that he usually produces a real story about people he has clear ideas about; his many teenage comedies, for example, are miles more inventive than the recent sex-and-prom sagas." - Roger Ebert

John Hughes, who passed away yesterday at the age of 59, was a prolific and much loved filmmaker of the 80's and, thus, if you came of age in that decade, as I did, at least one, if not more of his films, probably hold a special place in your heart. While I have both heard and personally know people who have said "'The Breakfast Club' changed my life" I must admit that I never much cared for "The Breakfast Club" then and don't much care for it now. No, for me the Hughes Masterpiece was always "Ferris Bueller's Day Off". It spoke to me as a kid. It spoke to all of us as kids. How could it not?

When Ferris (Matthew Broderick) pulls back the curtains in his suburban Illinois bedroom to declare "How could I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?" it was truly a punk rock moment. We all wanted to hop in Cameron's (Alan Ruck) dad's convertible with that trio and roll through downtown Chicago.

Yet as much as the movie was about kids it was also about adults, these three teenagers getting their first glimpse at a world without school, full of both promise and wonder but also full of "snooty" enemies and untrustworthy parking garage attendents. Remember the way they sit down to dine at Chez Louis? Toasting their water glasses, trying to emulate the older people around them, yet chewing on their ice when they finally take a sip?

It was about yearning for freedom but also about the fear that promise of freedom inevitably elicits, when you leave behind your best friends for college and for the mysterious world of grown-ups. This terror is perhaps best illustrated when in a brief chat on the future Ferris's ravishing girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) asks Cameron what he's interested in to which Cameron replies: "Nothing." Sloane echoes that sentiment. And then, of course, Ferris launches into his parade-float version of "Twist and Shout" that washes everyone's cares away, kids and adults alike. (In 1986 could I possibly have known that some day I would wind up pushing papers in the exact same business district as Ferris's dad?)

The most common complaint I've heard leveled at the movie over the years is the shallow, cartoon-like, portrayal of the adults, particularly Ferris's primary nemesis, Principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), who scours Chicago and the 'burbs in a misplaced effort to ruin Ferris's day off and make an example. But with each passing year, the older I get (32 in less than a month), the more I realize "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is not just about kids and not just about kids on the verge of becoming adults but about adults, too. We need days off just like any rambunctious teen. I think maybe Ed Rooney was a little jealous, a little envious.

It defines the notion that youthful dreams are alive at any age and it's why I've never much cared for the sentiment that "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" was an 80's movie. It was a movie made in the 80's. Fair enough? It was special to me then, it's special to me now.

John Hughes all but disappeared from movies in the early 90's (though he still wrote screenplays because, as we all know, writers have to write) and he was missed ever since. We will continue to miss him.

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