Ferris Bueller's Day Off (Bueller... Bueller... Edition) Review

Life moves pretty fast… If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

If there is one reason why Ferris Bueller’s Day Off remains such a great film – though there are many reasons and I will enumerate a few later on down the page – while the ravages of time, attitudes, style and the hindsight reappraisal of music trends have been less kind to John Hughes’ other 1980s teen, brat-pack comedies, it’s summed up in the somewhat corny tag-line that opens and closes the movie. This is a film that aims to have fun in a mildly rebellious kind of way, to show that you can pick off a few apples without upsetting the whole cart.

While this ethos now seems less than convincing in other Hughes teen-vehicles like The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink, Hughes proves he got it exactly right in choosing Matthew Broderick as the protagonist and eponymous Ferris Bueller – the coolest kid in school – a righteous dude, beloved of sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies and dickheads. With a character turning around and giving self-righteous, smart-ass monologues to the camera at regular intervals throughout the film, it really ought not to work as well as it does. Ferris Bueller is the kind of character you ought to hate, as his “heartless wench” of a sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) does, for being able to do and get away with absolutely everything, while you know if it was you, you’d get caught. Broderick carries it off and I’m not sure exactly how – this is part of the reason why it still remains such as joy to watch - but I suspect it’s got a lot to do with the film’s adoption of the same mildly anarchic stance of its main character.

The story is a simple one. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), figures it is far too nice a day to be going into school and sitting a test, so he pretends to be sick and sets out to have a bit of fun in the few days he has left before he has to start college and take life a little more seriously. He also ropes in his girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) and his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), who is no match for Ferris’ powers of persuasion, even caving in over the matter of the borrowing of his dad’s prize red Ferrari. Together they enjoy the best that downtown Chicago has to offer in the way of restaurants, sports, museums and parades, leaving the consequences of their actions for only Cameron to worry about. Of course none of this would be that much fun if they weren’t also getting one over on Ferris’ avowed nemesis, the school principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), who – despite every kid in the school rallying around to buy a new kidney for him, believing he is on the point of death (and is going to “donate his eyes to Stevie Wonder”) - is certain that Ferris is faking his illness, and is just as certain he can prove it.

Scripted almost in its entirety in an astonishing 7 days, the levity and sheer ease with which Ferris Bueller’s Day Off appears to carry off its humour, belies the brilliance of its structure and writing. You could pick any section of the film at random and, by watching how it juxtaposes its outrageously funny scenes, analyse why it works so well. For example, take the early scene where Ed Rooney is going apoplectic in his office at the thought that Bueller has pulled the wool over his parents’ eyes and got another day off sick, but is denied any small pleasure that might be derived from an appalling sick record, as Ferris hacks into his school record from his home computer and removes the evidence before his very eyes. This then cuts to a scene where Ben Stein’s droning school teacher (the person who intones the famous “Bueller… Bueller…” line that give this DVD edition its name) has reduced his class to a near-catatonic state in his economics lecture, while the “sick” Ferris is actually dancing around his room. Not only is each of these scenes brilliantly funny in its own right – superbly scripted and performed – but each scene supports and gives depth to the other.

You could apply this to almost every section of the film. See also, for example, Ed Rooney on the hunt for Bueller downtown, only to miss him televised live on TV at a baseball game, making a catch when the ball goes into the stands. This is twice as funny since it shows how much he underestimates Bueller, expecting to find him skulking in the amusement arcade of a cheap diner, while Ferris is actually dining at the most expensive restaurant in the city and making much more imaginative and risky appearances in public in front of TV cameras. It’s actually even funnier since you know that even if Ed Rooney did happen to glance at the TV screen, you can bet that Ferris Bueller would still get out of it somehow.

This is a film where every single part is characterised and performed to perfection, right down to the smallest of secondary roles and bit parts. Merely the mention of the garage attendant (“Hey, you’re a very generous individual”), the snooty maitre d’ (“You’re Abe Froman? The sausage king of Chicago?”), Ed’s secretary Grace, the singing kiss-a-gram girl, Charlie Sheen’s “Boy in Police Station” or any one of many memorable minor characters, will bring to mind another terrifically funny line or scene from the film. Taking nothing away from Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck or Jennifer Grey, who are simply perfect and charismatic in their roles, but for me Ed Rooney is the star of the film. Ferris Bueller’s day off wouldn’t be as much fun if it weren’t for his constant run-ins or near-misses with Ed Rooney. A puffed-up jackass who thinks he has the savvy to outsmart a little snot-nosed kid trying to leave his cheese out in the wind, the viewer takes delight in seeing him outmanoeuvred and humiliated not only by Bueller, but by everyone from his secretary to the little kid at the back of the school bus. He is played to perfection by Jeffrey Jones, who generously allows you to see every expression of misplaced confidence, smugness, anger, frustration and resignation to flicker across his face, often within the same shot.

The film’s marvellous sense of pace and timing only flags slightly towards the end, with Cameron flipping-out over the business of the Ferrari, bringing an unwelcome note of moralising maturity to the proceedings, but it picks up the pace again with a breakneck final confrontation between Bueller and Rooney - Jeffrey Jones again saving the film from taking itself too seriously. Somewhat appropriately though, Ferris Bueller gets the last word in the clever post-credits sequence.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Bueller… Bueller… Edition) is released in the USA by Paramount. The disc is in NTSC format and is encoded for Region 1.

It’s not perfect, but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off looks rather good in its anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer here. It’s a little dark and heavy on the contrast side of things, with a certain amount of negative grain visible and the faintest flicker of brightness levels. The print however is clear and sharp, showing a fair amount of detail, with only the most minor of marks that would scarcely pass notice being evident every now and again. Colours are slightly duller than would be expected, tending towards pastel tones. What is great however is seeing the film in full 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, particularly for anyone, like myself, who has only ever seen a pan and scan version of the film on television or VHS. This is a film that, photographed by Tak Fujimoto, makes excellent use of its scope ratio – and it is a sheer delight to see that being so well presented on DVD.

The original stereo soundtrack is presented as Dolby Digital 2.0 and is certainly most effective – having a wonderful tone and depth of sound, particularly in the score which mainly makes use of Yello’s 'Oh Yeah' for incidental music, but also shows off the typical John Hughes soundtrack of 80’s New Wave pop (Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Big Audio Dynamite, The Dream Academy etc.). A Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is included for those who want to have sound coming out of all their home cinema speakers, and it also works effectively with a little more of a punch, remaining front speaker based without compromising the original Dolby Stereo sound design of the film.

English hard of hearing subtitles are provided, as well as French and Spanish subtitle options.

The extra features would be the only reason why many people would think about buying this film on DVD again, after an already more than adequate Standard Edition released a few years ago, that included a director’s commentary. Inexplicably, the Bueller… Bueller… Edition (incidentally, this trend of Special Edition naming has got to end, if only for the sake of reviewers who constantly have to name them to differentiate between them), rather than building on the previous edition, actually drops the John Hughes commentary, which I personally haven’t listened to, but have heard that it was good. So what does the new edition include?

Getting The Class Together: The Cast of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (27:45)
This is an interesting and informative retrospective look at the film, featuring recent interviews and archive interviews with all the main cast and a few of those bit-part characters. All the main cast are there in new interviews, with the exception of the elusive Mia Sara.

The Making Of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (15:28)
Cut from the same cloth of new and archive interviews, but also including some behind-the-scenes footage, this comprehensively gives a fine overview of how the film was scripted, edited and improvised, providing details on a few secrets of the filming.

Who Is Ferris Bueller? (9:12)
Each of the interviewees discuss what makes Ferris Bueller work – and obviously Matthew Broderick has a lot to do with it.

The World According To Ben Stein (10:51)
Just as dryly funny as the Economics teacher he plays in the film, the wonderful Ben Stein warrants his own featurette. Here he talks about how he loves being famous and how he owes it all to Richard Nixon. He also pretty much sums up what is the attraction and secret of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’s success.

Vintage Ferris Bueller: The Lost Tapes (10:16)
Disappointingly, not any deleted scenes or outtakes or anything like that (although there is one clip of a deleted scene being filmed), this is actually Matthew Broderick on-set in 1986, interviewing other the cast members and goofing around with them.

Class Album
This collects 18 colour promo stills for the film.

Time hasn’t been kind to John Hughes’ teen comedies, making them look like nostalgic 1980’s period pieces, but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is another matter entirely, like the director’s other great comedy Planes, Trains & Automobiles, finding a rich vein for humour and successfully mining the situation for all it will yield. I can’t think of a single comedy film that (barring one minor slump) is such an end-to-end joy as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, hitting the mark word for word, scene after scene, with such note perfect characters, situations and performances. I don’t know that there was strictly any need for yet another DVD edition of the film, particularly one that drops the one extra feature – the commentary - that fans think most valuable, but even if it is just another excuse to sell the film all over again, the fact that it gets it out there to be seen by more people is not exactly a bad thing in my opinion. A decent transfer and some good retrospective features make this a very worthwhile release.

9 out of 10
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