May 23, 2007

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

This week we continue our look at teenage life in the ‘80s through the eyes of John Hughes. Can anyone tell me what movie we’ll be discussing this week? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone? That’s right, we’ll be discussing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. And can anyone tell me what this film is about? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone? It’s your basic tale of a high school senior named Ferris Beuller (Matthew Broderick) and his quest to skip a day of school with his girlfriend, Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara) and his paranoid and depressed best friend, Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) while avoiding being caught by his clueless parents (Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward), his always doubting and constantly jealous sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey), or his ever suspicious school dean of students, Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones). See this is Ferris’ ninth absence for the school year so this is the last chance he has to skip school before he fails his senior year, so he wants to make the most of his last day of freedom before graduation.

So, he easily convinces his parents that he is very ill (even though he admits that it was probably his worst acting job ever), but his sister doesn’t buy it and becomes very suspicious. Then the trick was to convince Cameron to get out of bed. Cameron leads a very depressing life under the tyrannical rule of his overbearing father (whom we never meet). He finally succeeds in getting Cameron to come over and he then somehow convinces Rooney, with the use of his accomplice Cameron imitating Sloane’s father, that her grandmother had died and that they would be picking her up at the school to be with her family. One problem, Ferris didn’t have a car Cameron’s car was a POS…so somehow Ferris convinces Cameron to let him borrow Cameron’s father’s vintage 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California out for a spin as to be convincing in front of Rooney when they pick up Sloan (in full disguise) from school. And so begins their adventure into downtown Chicago, where they go to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, tour the Sears Tower, Chicago Board of Trade, the Art Institute of Chicago, eat at a ritzy downtown restaurant, and Ferris even sings (lip-synched) a couple of songs on a parade float, all while dodging Ferris’ father who they inadvertantly bump into on more than one occassion. It was indeed a full day! Meanwhile, Rooney doesn’t believe Ferris’ illness excuse, and sets out to catch him in the act, suffering injuries and humiliation in his quest.

The group goes to pick up the Ferrari, which they had left at a parking garage earlier in the day despite the pleas of the ever-cautious Cameron that they not leave it there. See, Cameron’s father was overly protective of his Ferrari, knowing the mileage down to the tenth of a mile and Ferris told Cameron that he had a plan to reverse the mileage they put on that day when he first convinced Cameron to let him take it out originally. Cameron had reason to be worried as the parking attentdant and one of his buddies decided to take the car out for a spin and put nearly 200 miles on it during their joy ride. When Ferris realizes it and tells Cameron, he freaks out and goes into a nearly canotonic state. Eventually, they get Cameron to snap out of it and work on getting the mileage off by jacking up the car’s back tires and putting it reverse with a cynder block on the gas pedal in the hopes that the mileage would come off. Obviously this doesn’t work and Ferris wants to break open the odometer and manaully roll it back, but Cameron tells him not to and starts taking his frustration out on the car by kicking it, slowly knocking it off the jack until it goes flying in reverse out the back of the garage into a ravine below, totally destroying the car. Ferris offers to take the blame, but Cameron declines and wants to stand up to his father for possibly the first time in his life. Ferris then takes Sloane home and then realizes how late it is and makes a mad dash home (on foot) to try to beat him parents home, narrily escaping Rooney thanks to his sister who had been out to get him caught the entire movie. In the end, he makes it back to bed just in time for his parents to walk in none the wiser to his exploits throughout the day.


This, and most of Hughes’ other films of this era, came out as I was just reaching my teenage years. I love pretty much everything about this film, from the “breaking the fourth wall” element where Ferris talks directly to the camera (viewing audience) like this is an instructional video on how to skip school, down to the on screen list of how to convince parents that you are sick especially when you aren’t, to the Ferrari and the beautiful Mia Sara! If you were a teenager in the ‘80s, you have probably quoted lines from this film at one time in your life and probably still do. If you haven’t seen this yet (really, who are you?), go out now and pick this up…you won’t regret it!


* Sloane is based on a high-school version of Nancy Hughes, John's wife. Cameron and Garth Volbeck (Charlie Sheen's druggie character) are based on acquaintances of Hughes from high school.
* Many of the license plates are acronyms for John Hughes' other films. For instance, Mr. Bueller's being "MMOM" for Mr. Mom as well as Jeannie's being "TBC" for The Breakfast Club and even including "FBDO" for the film itself on Rooney’s car. The license plate on Camerons dad's Ferrari 250 GT California is "NRVOUS."
* Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward, who played Ferris' parents, married in real life after filming this movie, although they subsequently divorced.
* Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey became a couple during the making of the movie.
* Broderick wasn't the first choice for the role of Ferris, the original being Michael J. Fox, which is ironic since Broderick was the first choice to play Fox's role of Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties. (Fox would later co-star with Ruck on Spin City.) Jim Carrey and Johnny Depp were also at one point in consideration for the role (Depp turned down the role). (Coincidentally, Matthew Broderick and Jim Carrey starred together in the 1996 movie The Cable Guy.)
* Anthony Michael Hall turned down the role of Cameron to avoid being typecast. Emilio Estevez also turned down the role.
* Most of the interior school scenes were filmed inside Maine North High School, the same location where The Breakfast Club was filmed. Scenes in the principal's office and when Sloane waits for Ferris in the auditorium were filmed inside Glenbrook North High School. The exterior school scenes were filmed at Glenbrook North High School, from which John Hughes graduated.
* Ferrari fans were horrified to contemplate the actual destruction of a very rare automobile. However, it was later confirmed that the destroyed vehicle was an MG with a fiberglass body mockup of the Ferrari. Not long after the film was released, the company that produced the replica was sued for unlawful use of the Ferrari logos. Soon after this, the company shut down to avoid further payout.
* When Jeanie is in the police station, the first shot of the scene that we see is a police badge that says Police Officer Shermer. Shermer is the name of the town in which the high schools are set in The Breakfast Club and Weird Science, both of which were also produced and directed by John Hughes.

May 6, 2007

The Breakfast Club (1985)

It’s May and that means we’re reaching the end of the school year. For some, that means graduation and the start of adulthood, whether that be going to college or getting a real job, or both! For others it just means getting one year closer to graduating. Yet for parents, it’s trying to figure out how to keep your teenagers out of trouble during their summer break. With all of this in mind, this month we’ll be discussing some of John Hughes ‘80s Teen Comedy Classics! Hughes, whether simply inking the script for a film or providing a dual role as writer and director, epitomized and defined the ’80s for most teenagers. Yes, there were other great ‘80s teen comedies, but for the most part, when you think of the ‘80s and you think Teen Comedies, you think of John Hughes, or at least you do if you grew up in the ‘80s like I (and all of my friends) did…

We start our discussion of Hughes films with his 2nd film in which he scripted and directed, The Breakfast Club, which really established the key group of actors known as the “Brat Pack”; Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwold, and Ally Sheedy. (only members missing from this film were Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, and Demi Moore) The film follows five stereotypical students, the athlete (Estevez as Andrew Clark), the princess (Ringwold as Claire Standish), the brain (Hall as Brian Johnson), the basket case (Sheedy as Allison Reynolds) and the criminal (Nelson as John Bender) as they attend a Saturday detention session in the school library headed by hard *expletive deleted* Principal Richard Vernon (Paul Gleeson). As Principal Vernon states, “You have exactly eight hours and fifty-four minutes to think about why you are here…to ponder the error of your ways. You may not talk. You may not move from these seats. And you (Bender) will not sleep! Alright people, we’re gonna try something different today. We are going to write an essay. No less than a thousand words describing to me who you think you are. And when I say essay, I mean essay. I do not mean a single word repeated a thousand times. Is that clear Bender? Don’t mess with the bull young man, you’ll get the horns!” So the ground rules have been laid down, and it’s pretty obvious that Vernon has some serious issues with Bender.

As Vernon leaves the library to go to his office, Bender immediately starts causing problems with the other students and breaking all the rules Vernon had just laid down, including getting out his chair to go remove a screw from the door between the library and Vernon’s office making it impossible to keep the door open. This leads to a confrontation between Vernon and Bender which results in Bender receiving another 2 months of Saturday detention with Vernon. You can tell Bender has been to several detentions headed by Vernon and this has been a long time rivalry between the two. The following is a scene where Bender and Vernon really get into it with each other:

Vernon: You’re not fooling anybody, Bender. The next screw that falls out is gonna be you.
Bender: [under his breath] Eat my shorts.
Vernon: What was that?
Vernon: You just bought yourself another Saturday, mister.
Bender: Ah, I’m crushed.
Vernon: You just bought one more right there.
Bender: Well, I’m free the Saturday after that. Beyond that, I’m gonna have to check my calendar.
Vernon: GOOD! Because it’s gonna be filled! We’ll keep going…you want another one? Say the word, just say the word. Instead of going to prison, you’ll come here! Are you through?
Bender: No!
Vernon: I’m doing society a favor!
Bender: So!
Vernon: That’s another one right now! I’ve got you for the rest of your natural born life if you don’t watch your step. You want another one?
Bender: Yes!
Vernon: You’ve got it! You’ve got another one right there! That’s another one, pal!
Claire: Cut it out!
Vernon: You through?
Vernon: Good! You’ve got one more right there.
Bender: You really think I give a *expletive deleted*?
Vernon: Another! You through?
Bender: How many is that?
Brian: That’s seven including the first one when you asked Mr. Vernon here whether Barry Manilow raided his closet.
Vernon: Now it’s eight. You stay out of it! (directed at Brian)
Brian: Excuse me, sir, it’s seven.
Vernon: Shut up, pee wee! (directed at Brian)

Vernon: You’re mine, Bender. For two months, I gotcha. I gotcha.
Bender: What can I say? I’m thrilled!
Vernon: Oh, I’m sure that’s exactly what you want these people to believe. You know something, Bender? You aught to spend a little more time trying to do something with yourself and a little less time trying to impress people! You might be better off.

Vernon: [addressing the entire group] Alright, that’s it! I’m gonna be right outside those doors. The next time I have to come in here, I’m crackin’ skulls!

Then the boredom sets in…

Well, they all fall asleep and Vernon walks in on them, wakes them up and gives them a lavatory break. Then Bender continues antagonizing the rest of group, especially Claire. Besides the typical result of this, that of hatred and anger towards him which was probably the real outcome he was hoping for, something else came from it that was unexpected…that he was helping break the barriers between the cliques that each of his fellow detainees were part of as well as making each of them realize their problems were no worse than anyone else’s, whether it be an over demanding father or parents, an abusive father, divorced parents using the child against each other, or a family that just doesn’t care. By the end of the film, Claire and Bender were becoming romantically involved (more so because Claire wanted to get back at her parents), as were Andy and Allison (thanks to a makeover of Allison by Claire), and Brian was breaking out of his shell! Back to the essay, the group decided to let Brian write the essay for the entire group and it reads as follows:

Dear Mr. Vernon,

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us…in the simplest terms…with the most convenient definitions. But we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,
The Breakfast Club

Now, this became the template for several other teen comedies that came after it even to this day. Some may say that it was cliché and predictable, but only if viewing it now and trying to take into consideration all other teen comedies that have borrowed or stolen from this film. This was one of the originals and this should be taken into consideration! Also, you can definitely tell the influence this had on some of the great writers of animated television with the “Eat my shorts” reference being a very popular phrase from Bart Simpson some 10 years later. Also, one of the characters from Futurama is named Bender which was inspired by John Bender in this film, as admitted by Groening himself. There are several other direct influences from this and other Hughes films in other animated and live action shows and movies, most listed on Wikipedia.

Reasons for each student’s detention:
  • Brian: flare gun goes off in his locker
  • Andy (Andrew): tapes a guy's butt cheeks together in the locker room
  • Claire: ditches class to go shopping
  • Allison: didn't do anything, she didn't have anything better to do on a Saturday
  • Some trivia about the film:
  • The film's title comes from the nickname invented by students and staff for detention at New Trier High School, the school attended by the son of one of John Hughes' friends. Thus, those who were sent to detention were designated members of "The Breakfast Club". "The Breakfast Club" at that school probably took its name in turn from the title of American radio's longest running network entertainment show, broadcast from Chicago, 1933 to 1968.
  • In the scenes of the school in the beginning, John Kapelos' character Carl is listed as one of the "Men of the Year". Ironically, he is now the school's janitor.
  • Emilio Estevez was originally going to play Bender, but John Hughes couldn't find someone to play Andrew Clark, so Emilio agreed to play Clark.

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