In defense of Ferris Bueller, car salesman

Even John Hughes -- a former ad-man -- would have enjoyed the buzzed-about Super Bowl ad loaded with film allusions

Topics: Nostalgia, Super Bowl, Television, Editor's Picks, TV, ,

In defense of Ferris Bueller, car salesmanMatthew Broderick

Honda owes Matthew Broderick a great, big “Danke Schoen.”

Thanks to him, the Japanese carmaker can boast that it’s got this year’s most buzzed-about Super Bowl ad: a commercial for the Honda CR-V featuring Broderick in an homage to his most well-loved character, Ferris Bueller.

This time around, Broderick isn’t portraying a charming teenage truant who feigns sickness and skips school to drive around Chicago in a Ferrari 250 GT with his best friend and girlfriend, and dance on a parade float while lip syncing Wayne Newton and the Beatles. Rather, Broderick plays a fictionalized version of his actual, off-screen self: a middle-aged guy feigning sickness to take a day off from shooting a movie so that he can tool around Los Angeles in an SUV. The ad, which was directed by Todd Phillips — of “The Hangover” and “Old School” fame — has been viewed over 3 million times on YouTube, is a top trending topic on Twitter — but has divided fans who aren’t sure whether to thrill to the nostalgia or be horrified that the free-spirited Bueller is shilling for an SUV.

The spot is, of course, chock-full of references to John Hughes’ 1986 teen comedy “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” with plenty of cinematic nods meant to delight the “righteous dude” in all of us. Whereas Ferris had to con Principal Rooney, Broderick’s agent is now the authority figure who must be duped in order for the day off to succeed. Ferris boogied on a float in a German parade; Broderick sings a Mandarin ditty while dancing in a Chinese parade. Best of all, perhaps, is the moment when a valet alerts Broderick that his Honda is ready with a monotonous “Broderick … Broderick …,” instantly calling to mind the line that made Ben Stein famous.

(True aficionados will thrill to the more obscure references: a guy in a Detroit Red Wings jersey, a la Ferris’ best friend Cameron, rides the roller coaster behind Broderick; the area code of the phone number Broderick calls using the CR-V’s phone system is that of the Chicago land area where Ferris had his fun; Broderick’s agent is named Walter Linder — which just happens to be the name written right above that of Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago, in the reservation book at the snooty restaurant where Ferris, Cameron and Sloane have lunch. Really.)

So how did one of the most beloved pop-cultural moments of the 1980s become the subject of a Honda commercial, 25 years later? “The film embodies the theme of getting out and doing stuff,” Joe Baratelli of RPA, the agency behind the spot, told Adweek’s David Griner. The Honda CR-V is trying to position itself as a car that allows you to tackle, as Baratelli put it, the “list of things you want to do before the things you have to do,” which jives with the carpe diem worldview that Ferris espouses.

As for Broderick’s involvement, he thought about it for a while, ultimately deciding doing the ad “might be amusing,” as he told New York. “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.” Over the course of the shoot, Broderick said, he was “running around L.A … thinking, ‘I hope this is a good idea.’”

Some would say it isn’t.

While some people are griping about the lack of Alan Ruck and Mia Sara in the spot, and others are pointing out the obvious — a Honda ain’t a Ferrari — still others have qualms on a deeper level. “Remember when it was thought that a corporation couldn’t successfully manufacture a viral sensation?” asked the CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi on his program “Q.” “Remember how those discerning and democratic voices of the Internet would see through that kind of ruse? No more. Now it seems like we’re all just suckers for … an epic SUV commercial that plays on our nostalgia for a time gone by. What do we do in the face of these programmed and planned viral creations that are actually about selling products? We eat them up. But maybe it’s worth asking ourselves, what would the real Ferris Bueller do?”

Cleverly, the commercial sidesteps that sacrilege. That’s not Ferris Bueller in the SUV, it’s Matthew Broderick. Ferris Bueller remains ageless, and this ad is yet another testament to that. He lives on Blu-ray, while Matthew Broderick — though still adorable —  grows up, marries, has kids and goes gray at the temples. A better question — and one that many fans are surely asking themselves — is, what would John Hughes (who died in 2009) have thought of the commercial?

Maybe Hughes would have been annoyed that his beloved Ferris was being used to sell cars on TV. (He was quite peeved by the NBC 1990 sitcom version of “Ferris Bueller,” now only remembered because Jennifer Aniston played Jeannie.) On the other hand, he did live to see JC Penney’s 2008 back to school campaign, which distilled the essence of “The Breakfast Club” into a 60-second ad.

But in the movie, Ferris’ father, played by the wonderful actor Lyman Ward, worked in advertising in Chicago. And so too did Ferris’ true father, John Hughes. Indeed, before his extraordinarily successful career as a filmmaker, Hughes was something of an ad-world wunderkind. At just 21, he convinced execs at the ad agency Needham, Harper and Steers to hire him, and he later made the jump to Leo Burnett and Co., where he began working on accounts such as Edge shaving cream. (The well-known ad where a man scratches a credit card along his face to prove there’s no stubble? A Hughes brainchild.) He learned the art of using marketing as a means of telling — or more accurately, selling — a story. He attended monthly focus groups to discover what people wanted to get out of a product, an experience he would later say made him savvy when it came to the marketing of his own films.

Considering his understanding of the power of advertising, and his love of well-crafted humor (which the Honda ad, admittedly, contains plenty of), he probably would have gotten a kick out of the Super Bowl spot. It’s fair to say that, at the least, he would have loved the use of a vanity license plate (“SOCHOIC,” for Ferris’s oft-imitated line “so choice”) in the spot — a Hughes hallmark if ever there was one.

Hughes, one would like to believe, would have found it quite righteous indeed that his movie was still so beloved — 25 years after its release — that it was worthy of a lengthy homage in front of the biggest television audience of the year (and possibly of all time).

When Honda first released a short teaser of the commercial, many fans believed that what they were seeing was actually footage from an upcoming Ferris Bueller sequel. And they’re not the only ones to fantasize about such a thing: “Just for fun,” Alan Ruck told me when I interviewed him for my book about John Hughes’ films, “I used to think, why don’t they wait until Matthew and I are in our 70s, and do ‘Ferris Bueller Returns,’ and have Cameron be in a nursing home,” which Ferris would liberate him from.

Kidding aside, Broderick has said that there was “some talk” about a sequel, but that “John never really seemed absolutely thrilled about it.” Broderick didn’t want to say yes to the role until he saw a script, and Hughes, Broderick remembered, “said, ‘Well, I’m not gonna write a script if Ferris Bueller’s not saying yes.’ I look back on that and I think, of course I should have just said yes. That was just really ridiculous of me.”

At the end of the commercial, after chasing down the kinds of life-affirming adventures that would surely make Ferris proud, Broderick turns to the camera and speaks his most iconic character’s most iconic line: “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” It doesn’t matter if hearing Broderick utter the line in this context has your eyes rolling or misting up — the wisdom of Ferris’ philosophy still rings true. Life does move pretty fast — whether you’re young or middle-aged; whether you’re doing the things you want to do or the things you have to do; whether you’re driving a Honda or a Ferrari.

Susannah Gora is the author of "You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, And Their Impact on a Generation"

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>