When Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was released in 1986 Roger Ebert described the eponymous hero as ‘a teenager who skips school so he can help his best friend win some self-respect’. Not everyone considered Ferris to have such selfless motives. In fact, over the past thirty years Ferris has remained as divisive as the film has been beloved. But what about the baby-faced Matthew Broderick, who gave face and form to one of John Hughes’ best-remembered creations, or the actors who played his fellow truants and their adversaries?
Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller)
For many, the Broderick of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a total golden boy; he had charm, and throughout the film pretty much got whatever he wanted at every turn. Broderick continued to work with tenacity through the rest of the ‘80s, mainly in teen films such as Project X and Biloxi Blues, before appearing in Civil War flick Glory, which went on to win 3 Oscars. At this stage in his career Broderick was working with really big names, including Morgan Freeman, Marlon Brando and Dustin Hoffman.
Despite a steady stream of work since – including voice roles for both Lion King movies, The Producers remake and several romcoms – Broderick’s most high-profile recent project was Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck. For some inexplicable reason Broderick makes a brief appearance as himself, alongside sports commentator Marv Albert, tennis player Chris Evert, and of course, LeBron James (who turns out to have excellent comedic chops). In addition to this rather unimpressive cameo, Broderick had a film play at Tribeca Film Festival last year – Dirty Weekend with co-star Alice Eve – but it has since opened in the US to poor reviews.
In Dirty Weekend Broderick is a far cry from the boyish charmer of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which brings us to one of the most interesting recent responses to his career. In Life Moves Pretty Fast, her collection of essays on ‘80s movies (the title is taken from Ferris Bueller), Hadley Freeman considers Broderick’s character in Alexander Payne’s Election an extension of Ferris. Freeman offers a reading of Ferris as the kid who peaks in high school, ending up as the miserable and clueless Jim McAllister in Election. Thankfully things aren’t quite so bad for Broderick.
Alan Ruck (Cameron Frye)
While Broderick’s waistline has increased with age, Alan Ruck is instantly recognisable as Ferris’ friend Cameron, and still has quite a youthful face. Following Ferris Bueller he worked at the fringes of the Brat Pack, co-starring alongside the better known Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez. He’s since enjoyed a busy TV career, albeit mainly in one-off appearances in the likes of CSI, NCIS, and Masters of Sex. After Ferris, Ruck is probably best remembered for his turn in the Sandra Bullock/Keanu Reeves vehicle Speed (see what we did there?). Like Broderick’s turn in Election, Ruck’s role in Speed can be seen as a continuation of Cameron. Once again he played an extraordinarily anxious guy, perhaps more justifiably this time, given Speed’s premise.
Mia Sara (Sloane Peterson)
Mia Sara’s turn as Ferris’ girlfriend was only her second role in a feature film. She went on to be the least successful of the bunch, bouncing between b-movies and made-for-TV projects. The “highlight” is perhaps her first billing in The Incredible Elephant (2001), which relays the ridiculous story of a boy wishing on a star for an elephant. Now apparently retired, Sara hasn’t completed any projects since 2013. That’s more than just a day off.
Jeffrey Jones (Ed Rooney)
In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Jones played the love-to-hate character or Mr Rooney, the high school teacher with a particular vendetta against Broderick’s serial-skiver. This character surely set the mould for Eugene Levy’s obsessive truancy officer in the 2004 Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen flick New York Minute (a total guilty pleasure).
Despite his highly comedic turn in Ferris, Jones is also well known for Amadeus and The Crucible and for his stage work, though more recently he’s also made a habit of appearing in family-friendly fare including Dr Dolittle 2 and Stuart Little. It’s up for debate whether Jones has retired for good, but several arrests for sex offences certainly haven’t helped his film career or general reputation.
Jennifer Grey (Jeanie Bueller)
Jennifer Grey played Ferris’ snarky yet reluctantly loving sister just a year before her iconic performance as Baby Houseman in Dirty Dancing, a film whose 30th anniversary we will no doubt be celebrating next year. Of Ferris Bueller’s key cast member’s, Grey is the only one who isn’t best known for appearing in Hughes’ film. Although she’s still working regularly she too has failed to eclipse the fame she achieved in the ‘80s, and is unfortunately discussed just as much for having undergone plastic surgery as for her acting these days.
Her recent work, though, is intriguingly diverse, including Joss Whedon’s In Your Eyes (2004), voice work for the dub of Studio Ghibli’s The Wind Rises, and playing Craig Roberts’ mother in Amazon original Red Oaks. The latter uses its holiday camp setting to make allusive if implicit reference to Grey’s most famous role.
Reflecting their various experience levels at the time of making Ferris Bueller, Hughes’ cast went on to have divergent careers. Not all are household names today, and Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey are the clear frontrunners in terms of lead roles and success. However, with Grey’s controversial nose job, her and Broderick’s involvement in a 1987 car crash which resulted in two deaths, and Jones’ high-profile legal troubles, the group also serve as exemplification of the dark side of celebrity. Reality has proved to be fiercely at odds with the dominant light-heartedness of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.