School is back in session, and there’s no better way to remember your own high school hi-jinks than by watching a movie. Check out these high school classics set in Chicagoland.
Cooley Vocational High School (in a 1964 version of Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood) is the setting for Cooley High, the fictional story of best friends Preach and Cochise. Preach is studious and has his sights set on a writing career; Cochise is the star of the basketball team, and both are ready for a fun adventure whenever the opportunity arises. Sometimes that opportunity presents itself as a chance to skip school and hang out at the zoo, or crash a party, or pursue a girl. But when a group of troublemakers begin to target them, adult realities start to collide with teenage innocence.
Director John Hughes’ name is synonymous with teen drama films, and 1985’s The Breakfast Club is a big reason why. Students at New Trier High School in suburban Winnetka dubbed early morning detention “breakfast club,” and this movie, (filmed in Des Plaines at the former Maine North high school) perhaps more than any other, gave a closeup look at five teen stereotypes of the 1980s – the popular girl, the jock, the geek, the punk and the loner. They find themselves awkwardly thrust together on a Saturday morning, but come to learn some deep things about each other and realize they may all be more multidimensional than their stereotypes would suggest.
Teen ballerina Sara Johnson’s life is struck by tragedy, and she decides to give up dance and return to high school in Chicago in 2001’s Save the Last Dance. She soon finds herself learning hip hop, and pairs up with a hip hop dancer named Derek. Romantic feelings develop between them, and Sara confides in Derek about her tragedy and her dream of attending Julliard, while Derek confides that his dream is to attend med school at Georgetown. Their interracial relationship causes backlash from others, and they ultimately must decide whether to follow their dreams or settle for a lesser path that seems predestined.
It’s the senior year of high school for North Shore student Joel Goodson, and with his exceptional grades and bright path ahead, he feels he deserves to let loose a little while his parents are out of town. Things quickly spin out of control, and Joel must find a way to cover his tracks after a weekend of partying, call girls and criminals results in thousands of dollars in damages to his parents’ Porsche and lavish home (an actual residence located in Highland Park.) Senoritis definitely takes a unique spin in the movie classic, Risky Business.
Hoop Dreams is the true story of two high school basketball players, William Gates and Arthur Agee, trying to make it to the NBA. Both teens make more than hour-long commutes from their homes in Chicago housing projects to the same high school in Westchester, Illinois that Isaiah Thomas attended. Both teens must find their places within the social structure of the school, which is predominantly white and very different from their own community, and find ways to remain athletically elite while surviving in abject poverty.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is another John Hughes’ classic teen drama. Ferris’ idyllic suburb (based on Hughes’ hometown of Northbrook) provides the launching off point for an epic decision to ditch high school (Glenbrook North, circa 1986) and tour around downtown Chicago. To the chagrin of his sister Jeannie, Ferris’ faux sick day garners him the sympathy and support of not only their parents, but almost everyone in their high school, and by the end of the day a full-fledged Save Ferris campaign has engulfed the school. His whirlwind tour takes him and his friends to the Art Institute, The Sears Tower, Wrigley Field and even the German-American parade marching down Dearborn.