Ferris Bueller's Day Off was the fourth teen movie that John Hughes directed in three years. It was also the last teen movie that he would ever direct. Cue the ominous music.
Okay, not that ominous. The Ferris Bueller shoot wasn't ravaged by werewolves or zombie Cubs fans or anything. It did mark a turning point in Hughes' career as a director, though. Read on, Shmooper.
By the time Hughes directed Ferris Bueller's Day Off, he'd built a stable of young actors that he worked with regularly, most notably Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall. "John hired people who he liked," Jeffrey Jones (Ed Rooney) told an interviewer in 1997 (source). While Hughes definitely dug Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller), Broderick didn't initially dig Hughes's directing style—which incorporated a lot of improvisation and a lot of takes. Like a lot a lot.
"What happens," Hughes explains, "is that I am on a set and I suddenly realize, 'This is the last time in my life that I am going to be right here doing this scene,' and that gets me so excited that I think, we might as well do it once, crazy, just for the hell of it… I'll say to the actors, 'Try this: Say the lines standing on your head…' I think Matthew was used to a more conventional approach" (source). Given that Broderick came from Broadway, where headstand soliloquies are few and far between, we think that's a safe assumption.
Old Man Ruck
Broderick eventually got on board, but according to Susannah Gora's book You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation (Three Rivers, 2011), Hughes and the cast of Ferris Bueller's Day Off just didn't bond the way Hughes had with the previous three ensembles he directed in Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science.
To be clear, Hughes and his Ferris Bueller's Day Off cast got along just swell—Alan Ruck (Cameron Frye) wasn't throwing diva tantrums about the wrong color M&M's in his trailer or anything—but as Mia Sara (Sloane Peterson) explains in You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried, she and her Bueller castmates were "not a group of actors whom Hughes could mold, could shape. [They] were not kids who would inspire him to retrace the emotional map of his own adolescence."
In other words, for thirty-five-year-old Hughes, who always saw himself as less of a director and more of a super-rad older brother, directing a twenty-nine-year-old Ruck on the set of Ferris Bueller's Day Off just wasn't the same as mentoring a fifteen-year-old Anthony Michael Hall on the set of Sixteen Candles.
Hughes's Kind of Town
Ultimately, Hughes was more of a writer than a director, if for no other reason than directing meant spending time in Los Angeles. "Hughes simply never took to L.A.," explains David Kamp in his article "Sweet Bard of Youth" (source). "It made him realize what he did and didn't value. He had no capacity or tolerance for industry schmoozing, no interest in keeping up with his young actors' emerging Brat Pack party circuit. What did matter to him was his family."
Hughes directed four more films in the five years after Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and then hurried home to the one character that appeared in every film he directed: the city of Chicago. Looking back at Bueller, with its location shoots at Sears Tower, Wrigley Field, and elsewhere around the Second City, Kamp claims, "the movie might as well have been called John Hughes's Homesickness Reverie" (source). Hughes was ready to ditch L.A. for Chicago years before he actually gave up directing.
A Real-Life Farmer Ted
It's frequently stated in the media that after moving back to Chicagoland at the start of the 90s, Hughes became a recluse for the remainder of his life before dying of a heart attack in 2009 at age 59.
We think "recluse" may be too strong a word. John Hughes didn't go all Howard Hughes or anything. Rather, he and his wife focused on raising their two sons away from Hollywood. Hughes wrote a bunch of kids' movies (most notably, Home Alone; least notably, Home Alone 3), relentlessly wrote in his journal, and started farming (source). That's hardly the daily grind of a shadowy hermit.
Here's the thing: For all the Curly Sues and Drillbit Taylors that potentially mar the second half of Hughes's career as a filmmaker, "Hughes did one thing extraordinarily well that most critics thought wasn't worth doing at all," explains Kurt Loder. "He made teen comedies—funny, distinctively humane pictures that resonated with young people in the 1980s in ways that we, now living in a much raunchier age, may not see again" (source). In the end, John Hughes's filmography remains timeless, and thus accessible, to every generation who's ever taken a much-needed day off.