Ferris Bueller and Honda: What would John Hughes have done?
Matthew Broderick and Honda have struck gold with their Super Bowl commercial featuring Ferris Bueller and a CRV. No question about it; it's drawing the biggest buzz of all the ads released before Sunday's big game. But does the ad tarnish the artwork that director John Hughes gave us back in 1986?
I think it ultimately depends on which version of Hughes you asked. Remember our favorite director started out in the advertising biz before breaking into movies. And yet during the '80s, the most satisfying era of his films, only National Lampoon's Vacation got the sequel treatment. He wrote the Home Alone and Beethoven films in the 1990s as he was largely exiting Hollywood; we're left to assume he did those dogs for the paycheck.
And yet, a paycheck is what the ad game is all about. And, to some degree, Hollywood in general. Though let it be clear that Hughes NEVER felt comfortable in that scene either. So where does that leave us, since we can't ask the man himself.
Susannah Gora, who wrote You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation, has a good take on it:
"Although it's possible that Hughes would have been irked that the world of Ferris was being used to sell cars on TV (he was not pleased by the NBC 1990 sitcom version of Ferris Bueller), I actually think, considering his own background as an advertising executive and his deep understanding of the powerful role commercials can play in our culture, that he might've gotten a real kick out of it," Gora said in an e-mail she sent me this week. "Mainly though, I think Hughes would have been happy that his movie is still so beloved— a quarter century after its release—that it's worthy of a send-up in front of the biggest television audience of the year."
And let's face it, there's very little that could be done to improve this Ferris memorial. (Gora points out in her article for Salon that including co-stars Alan Ruck and Mia Sara might have been a nice touch.) Try as hard as you can to count the movie references during the commercial, and your brain will be scrambled; fans find new ones with each viewing. Even Broderick, who has finally gone on the record about the ad with New York magazine, seems happy with it.
"It took a little, uh, thinking about it, it took a little time, but I ended up thinking it might be amusing," Broderick told the magazine. "Todd Phillips was directing it, who's a good director, and I thought it would be fun to send up Ferris Bueller a little bit.
As the ad has taken off on the Internet, Broderick seems pleased: "I guess I'm part of a virus."
If the Honda commercial adds to the fire of a Ferris Bueller sequel, that's another argument altogether.
Screenwriter Rick Rapier has a completed screenplay for a sequel that has been making the circles in Hollywood for several years now. (I have a copy of it here, and I enjoyed it.) I asked him what impact the Honda commercial has had on his efforts to see it made into a film. Rapier replied via e-mail that the commercial has "opened some doors" and that "big names in Hollywood are taking notice, and my sequel is getting read once again." Beyond that, he couldn't comment further.
We can debate if Ferris Bueller is a natural fit for a sequel. With all of Hughes' movies in the '80s, I welcome the blank canvas of a future that Hughes left us with; each of us is free to paint it as we like. Do the characters in Breakfast Club remain friends come Monday? Are Blane and Andie still dating after the prom in Pretty in Pink? Is Uncle Buck undergoing another triple-bypass operation after all those cigars and giant pancakes?
As for Ferris, I thoroughly enjoy Honda's version of a completed canvas. I appreciate that they at least took the time to color it in completely and their dedication to the original. I appreciate Rapier's screenplay too; painted in with similar devotion and further detail.
What would John Hughes have done? I'm sure he would have managed a wry smile seeing what others believe about Ferris and his future. But I think ultimately he was happy leaving his own personal canvas bare.