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"Danke schoen, darling...": Introducing a Teen to the Teen Canon of the 1980s

Part 9: Ferris Bueller's Day Off

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"Danke schoen, darling...": Introducing a Teen to the Teen Canon of the 1980s

There was a certain need for damage control after Weird Science almost ruined Grace’s life. I mean, how could I live with myself knowing I’d trashed the ’80s for her after we’d had such a good run? John Hughes had shown his dark side, and the kid had developed reservations about Anthony Michael Hall. When that happens, what gets you back on the farm?

Anyone? Anyone?

Grace has a high tolerance for violence and adult content but what she can’t handle at all is people embarrassing themselves or getting caught in flagrante doing something stupid. So I knew Ferris Bueller’s Day Off would have her in an anxiety-pretzel the minute Matthew Broderick talked Alan Ruck into stealing his asshole dad’s car. On the other hand, Hughes was pretty much at his funniest and Broderick was at optimum Cute in that movie. And it was pleasantly driven by a story with no stakes whatsoever invested in whether the girl got noticed by the boy, which was good. I figured if she was ever going to forgive John Hughes, this was the movie to make her do it.

And no, by the way, I wasn’t invested in whether Hughes stayed in her good graces. Like I’ve said, I considered his movies juvenile nonsense when I was her age and was usually more comfortable over at the UC Theatre watching Tim Curry prance around in pouty extraterrestrial drag at the midnight show. But I was fascinated at how well some of the ’80s pop hits did hold up after 30 years, and I wanted to keep going.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was released in 1986. It took Hughes a week to write the screenplay, and the film’s budget was in the $5 million range. It took in over $70 million at the box office, was a popular and critical success, and has been archived by the Library of Congress as a “culturally or esthetically important” film along with the likes of Vertigo and Citizen Kane, so I guess you’d call that a success. The story was simple: Charismatic smart-aleck skips school along with buddy and girlfriend, and takes a joyride through Chicago on a quest to live life to the fullest until Mom and Dad get home or the school principal finds him and has him expelled. This was not really one of Hughes’s ponderings on class or have/have-not dynamics or even teen rebellion, though Ferris is conducting a truancy experiment. It was his comedic valentine to Chicago, plain and simple, and he found a magical fusion between his city, that script, and a Totes Adorbs young Matthew Boderick.

Broderick’s fourth-wall-breaking slacker had not lost his appeal over the years: Grace was laughing her head off from the first scene, though as I predicted, the school-escape caper made her extremely nervous.

“Dude, it’s a comedy,” I said. “You know he gets away with it. Relax.”

“I just … ack!” Broderick was posing as Mia Sara’s “Daddy” and giving her a hello kiss in the school parking lot that would have made a Targaryen blush.

“I know.”

“A parade float?”

“Let it go.”

“Would you steal your friend’s dad’s Ferrari? Like, under any circumstances?”

I laughed. “Hmmm. Annie’s mom has a Tesla.”

Grace rolled her eyes.

“No way. But I had a couple of friends who probably would have. Did I ever tell you about the time the incoming seniors managed to sneak a car into the school library?”

“Wha?”

“Remind me to explain after the movie.” Grace and her sister attend a verifiable Smart-Aleck Academy, which happens to have also graduated me, so part of the generational divide is mitigated by our shared inability to fully believe huge public high schools like the ones in Hughes’s movies were really like that. That school’s had over a century of Ferris Buellers roam its halls, and in my day I’m sure the movie inspired more bizarre pranks than I ever knew about. I knew a couple of kids with Real High Grades in Chem and Physics who definitely put their talents to use in the field of, um, pyrotechnics, to the dismay of many a local mailbox owner. All I can say about this is that if you have a smart kid, hope they do a little boundary pushing in high school. The ones that don’t tend to go postal later in life.

On it went. Ferris’s sister Jeannie (Jennifer Grey) seethes with fury at her brother’s supernatural talent for getting away with stuff. Iconic images of Chicago roll past. The film has intelligent pacing, a sense of just how much and how often it had to go someplace deeper than just Getting Away With It, and Broderick would turn to camera and ponder what it was to really live life fully. Uptight Cameron (Alan Ruck) finally loses it and destroys the car his father lavished more affection on than he ever did on his son. There was catharsis, and also cringing, because holy crap they destroy a Ferrari. The principal develops a serious case of Loose Boundaries Syndrome and tries to catch him in the act, creating a satisfying last-minute alliance between Ferris and Jeannie against a common enemy.

“Okay,” Grace conceded. “This one. This one is good.”

“What’s good about it?”

“It just has the right balance of doofiness and actual … stuff,” she said. “I mean, it’s ridiculous, but then for a few minutes it actually makes you think. And the ending is amazing.”

“How so?”

“I’ve always fantasized about doing that.”

“Murdering an Italian sports car?”

“No. getting home by running through an endless series of backyards and people just … doing whatever, swimming or grilling or sitting under a tree and you just zip past like it’s nothing?”

“That’s funny.” It had never occurred to me that anyone would have this fantasy, particularly Grace, who is profoundly unlikely to run anywhere unless she gets on a serious sugar high and starts channeling Kid Flash, which does sometimes happen.

“You don’t wonder whether he’s going to get away with it,” Grace said. “There’s no question. This kid gets away with whatever he decides to, that’s the point.”

“Yeah!”

“Okay, this film is a ridiculously deep screwball teen comedy!” Grace laughed. “Wait, I suddenly feel ashamed of myself.”

“Really?”

“No, of course not really,” she scoffed. “But kinda. I mean, this is like a major statement about going for it, right? Breaking rules because rules are stupid and once you’re free of them you have all these possibilities?”

“Well, and consequences.”

“Yeah, consequences.” She thought for a minute. “The montage in the art museum. That’s a great moment.”

“Why?”

“Because even these id-kids, who are just off on a tear indulging their whims, are stopped by those paintings. Everything slows down. No crowds, no rock music, no Oh, Yeah, no comedy. Even those kids are stopped in their tracks by that space, like it was a big reminder that you’re not just supposed to live, you’re supposed to have something to show for your life and you have to remember that. What slows them down and makes them all contemplative is the idea of legacy! It’s like you can tell that they’ve all realized they won’t be young for long. Mom, John Hughes loved art, didn’t he?”

“He sure loved Chicago, and that’s a pretty world class museum.”

“Bu that’s the same trick he plays in Some Kind of Wonderful. The twist is that the punk delinquent kid loves art just like the main guy, and he has this late-night access to the museum, and when Keith really wants to impress that whiny girl he does it by taking her to the museum. And showing her an image of herself in there among all the … like, Impressionist masterpieces and stuff. It’s the same trick. He pandered to teenagers, but he must have really loved art.”

“Say more.”

“It’s what he uses to remind teenagers that it’s all temporary, and it matters whether you leave anything behind. And that what some people leave behind keeps changing people’s lives centuries after they’re dead. Legacy.”

“You think Ferris Bueller gets that, or that he just thinks it makes him look intellectual to ponder a Seurat canvas or whatever?”

“I think he gets it at a level he probably can’t articulate?”

“He’s pretty articulate. So are you, pretty much.”

“Danke Schoen?”

“You’re welcome.”

“Mom, when I grow up, can I be the Sausage King of Chicago?”

“If you put your mind to it, Grace. Maybe you should start a bake sale or something, save up your money for a secondhand meat-grinder, see if you can get an apprenticeship or something.”

“Going to the same high school as you is a frickin’ secondhand meat-grinder.”

“You’re very witty. Anyone ever tell you that?”

“Couple times. I can swear in Latin, too.”

“‘Secondhand Meatgrinder’ could’ve been your first band. Too bad you blew off drum lessons.”

“This is a great movie. Honestly. I forgive you for the other one.”

“Hey, I just curate. I didn’t make the damn thing.”

“I’m a righteous dude.”

“You don’t suck.”

“That’s sweet, Mom.”

“Don’t you have sausage to work on?”


Amy Glynn will never be the Sausage King of Chicago, but for her daughter, there’s still a chance.

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