The other night I was trying to figure out why it had taken me so long to watch Risky Business. I was in the mood for some Curtis Armstrong and saw that our beloved Booger had starred alongside Tom Cruise in what must be the second longest Ray-Ban’s commercial ever, behind that great cinematic achievement which is The Blues Brothers. I couldn’t remember having even heard of the movie before a time when I was forbidden to watch it. I can still picture my childhood kitchen on Grandview (in the house that never slept and which will certainly warrant its own post somewhere down the line), standing there as a ten year-old and listening to my mother tell me that Risky Business was off-limits. I had just seen a parody of the famous ‘underwear dancing’ scene and heard my mother say that it was a reference to the movie. Being a huge Bob Seger fan, I was immediately interested, and when I found out that it was about a boy who throws a party when his parents are out of town, I knew I had to see it. But the answer was no. An unequivocal no. I did the clever kid thing and surreptitiously asked my dad for permission, which received a prompt laugh. After that, as far as I was concerned the issue was buried and joined the ranks of Terminator 2 and Ghostbusters (Ghostbusters? Really? Thank goodness for sleepovers.)
What I found confusing at the time was that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was somehow kosher. One would think that Ferris Bueller would be persona-non-grata at the house of Woods long before Peter Venkman or Sarah Connor (Eddie Furlong as John Connor was, in hindsight, a strong contender), but somehow he passed the test and strolled right into our living room. My parents even bought me a copy of the movie for my thirteenth birthday. It was then that the question of Risky Business resurfaced, and it was vetoed by both permanent members of the Security Council. What on Earth could be so bad about this movie that a fun-loving prankster who lies to his parents and ditches school could come off smelling so darned rosy by comparison? Sure, the only other clue about the movie that I had gleaned from my mother was that there was a scene where Tom Cruise’s character invites a prostitute to the house (for those of you who have watched this movie, you will be thinking to yourselves, ‘a scene?’ Please be kind and remember that I was a naïve and uninformed boy innocent of the content of this film). So yes, that must be the reason. Fraternizing with prostitutes is different than scamming your way into a restaurant and singing in a parade. Understood.
Fast-forward to now. I had somehow lived another 20 years without ever watching this movie, and it was only the knowledge that Curtis Armstrong played a major character (although his appearances really tapered off midway through, I am sorry to report) that finally spurred me into action. So I watched it. To say that it was merely awesome is to do this film an injustice. I only know that in the hands of a young boy it could be disastrous, but I will hold that for later. Let me begin by telling you precisely at what point during the movie I realized why I was never allowed to watch it as a child (I will qualify this by saying that there were legion moments over the course of the viewing when I made this realization anew, but this was the first-and yes, there will be spoilers, friends). The precise moment at which I knew why this movie had been destined to occupy a shelf with Dungeons ‘n Dragons and other forbidden items came within the first seconds when Tom Cruise’s character, Joel Goodson, describes a recurring dream in which he surprises a girl in the shower. Yes, boys and girls. This film contained nudity. And, as I was to discover, sex. So there it was, it seemed. That must have been the reason. But there was so much more that awaited me.
Briefly, the vices contained in this movie include, but are not limited to: underage smoking and drinking, reference to drugs (if marijuana is a drug, although technically the actual consumption of alcohol kind of trumps this one anyway), stealing cars, ditching school (ah, there’s the overlap with Ferris Bueller!), nudity nudity nudity, SEX, and of course, operating a prostitution ring in your parents’ house. So yeah, I began to get the picture. But all of this thinking led me again to question my parents’ wisdom with Ferris Bueller. To paraphrase the movie and say that Ferris Bueller was my hero is putting it rather lightly. I wanted to be Ferris Bueller, and honestly, I more or less thought I was. Less extreme perhaps, but I pulled a lot of stunts in high school and got away with damn-near all of it. So why, Mom and Dad, did you let me watch that movie, over and over again, like an audio-visual training guide to beating the system (the system as it exists for your average sixteen year-old, middle-class, white male, I should note)? It was then that I made my most profound discovery: my parents wouldn’t let me watch Risky Business because they are geniuses.
Compared to Joel Goodson (‘good son’? Get it???), Ferris Bueller is clearly the lesser of two evils as far as your average parent is concerned. Joel, who until his parents leave to visit a sick aunt or something (this was both unclear and unimportant, as it sufficed for the screenplay writer to go with whatever was convincing enough to have parents take off for a week or so and leave their teenage son alone at home, precisely the sort of situation every teenage son dreams and yearns for, with my apologies to all of my beloved aunts for saying so.), is indeed a good son, one who worries that even a slight error in judgment could ruin his future. The story therefore plots the course of a good son’s descent into baddom (this should be a word), ultimately being rewarded with admission to Princeton precisely because of his ‘wicked ways’. Enter Ferris Bueller, a charming and delightful young man who, although he has his parents wrapped around his little finger, is secretly the nemesis of Edward R. Rooney, Dean of Students (damn you, Jeffery Jones, I used to really like you). This is based solely on his ability to skip school and not get caught, which in the grand scheme seems a little childish now. But hey, not about to say anything bad about a John Hughes film.
So, to sum up, Ferris Bueller starts the movie as an impish rogue who teases the viewer with his loveable antics and ultimately ends up no better or worse off than he started, except of course that he’s had a really great day off. We see the contrast fairly clearly: Goodson becomes a pimp, Bueller goes to an art gallery. And that’s when the brilliance of my parents’ plan hit me: Ferris Bueller was nothing but a decoy! ‘Sure,’ Mom and Dad thought, ‘let the little guy ditch school and go to Dux for lunch (and all by himself…where was my Cameron Fry? Where was my Sloane Peterson?) or to a Latin convention if he really wants to. As long as he’s on this side of running a prostitution ring out of our house, we’re doing pretty well.’ And you may laugh, but you know what? I think they were right. Because Joel Goodson looked pretty damn cool, and it seemed like he was having a really great time…until he got ripped off, but hey, I’d be smarter about it, right?
So I guess all I’m trying to say is: thanks, Mom and Dad. Even when I didn’t realize it, you had my best interest at heart, and you never failed to steer me right…although there is that pesky bit about Ghostbusters…