Where Did You Go, Mia Sara?

Mia Sara. For men of a certain age -- Generation Y, maybe -- those two words bring back a luminous smile from the haze of memory. She started her career with two impressive starring roles, becoming immortal when she played Sloan Peterson, Ferris's girlfriend in 1986's Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Fresh off a movie like that, blessed with that luminous smile, radiant beauty, and a pretty fair comic straight man, she should have been at the top of the box for years. Instead she fell off the face of the earth. Her IMDB page since 1986 reads off a list of TV guest appearances, miniseries, made-for-TV movies, and theatrical bombs. It's not fair, really.

She started out as a 14-year old who played a 19-year old on All My Children, and her first two film roles were starring roles, first playing Princess Lily in Legend, the mediocre Tom Cruise-Ridley Scott entry in the 1980s children's fantasy boom, along with The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, and Willow. It wasn't a great movie, and she didn't have a great part -- pretty extreme emotional changes without a whole lot of context, but hey, it was a kid's movie, she looked great when demonic Tim Curry dressed her up as his goth bride, and she sounded pretty fair when she sang, too. Oh, and she was just 17 when she made it.

The next year, she played Sloan, the girl who named a Canadian band, who looked at the camera with full conviction, said "He's going to marry me" for a laugh, and won the hearts of a generation. No matter what happened to her career after that, we'll always have Ferris.

But it all went south from there. The highlight of her career after she turned 20 was probably her role as Jean-Claude Van Damme's wife in 1994's Timecop, which had a pretty nice sex scene, a hilariously evil Ron Silver, and was one of the better Van Damme movies of the '90s, which isn't saying much. She has worked steadily, but not prominently, with lead or supporting roles (often featuring naked scenes) in a number of instantly-forgotten flicks. Her one recurring TV role was as Harley Quinn on the short-lived WB Batman series Birds of Prey, which was canceled after its first season.

I can't make a serious argument that she's a great lost actress of the '80s. She has a lot of company among faded former teen idols, after all, even just among the casts of John Hughes movies. Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy have both been prolific, but since the calendar turned to 1990 both have been as far from the mainstream as Mia Sara. Mia Sara had some talent and a great deal of beauty, and she probably still has some talent and a good deal of beauty, but she's 41 and -- shamefully, but undeniably -- there's not much of a place for actresses of that age in Hollywood.

Her fade into obscurity isn't a grand tragedy, just a quiet one: it girls have an awfully short shelf life, and once Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan took over the world, there wasn't a lot of room left in the A-list. As Richard Roeper wrote in 1996, "Like Ringwald, Sara is probably in her late 20s. That's middle-aged for an actress but there's still plenty of time for her to find her rightful place, either as a regular on a hit television show or a leading lady in the movies. If there's room for Jennifer Tilly in the movies, there should be room for Ringwald and Sara." It turned out there wasn't.

Back in 1987, fresh off her first two roles, still a teenager, she told the Chicago Tribune, "This business makes you believe in fate... So many things happen that aren't just coincidence, so you find that there are certain things you're meant to do." It's easy to say that when you're at the top. I hope she feels that way today.

Today, the former Mia Sarapochiello is a mother. After a nearly two-decade marriage to Jason Connery (Sean's son), she's living with Brian Henson (Jim's son). She hasn't worked in 2 years, hasn't really been in the news, and seems to be off just about everyone's radar, which may not be a bad thing, considering what happens to many former teen stars. (If you believe this guy, she makes a great crab salad.) Thanks to frequent DVD rereleases and constant TV play, she'll always be Ferris's girlfriend, of course, 18 years old and able to melt your heart with a glance. Maybe that's enough.