By: Erik Swift
Many films make Chicago look good. “The Blues Brothers” and “Judgment Night” drove through its streets, while “Risky Business” made taking the El sexy. “The Fugitive” was up for Best Picture, “Backdraft” spot lit firefighters busting their ass daily to save lives, and the Oscar-winning adaptation of “The Untouchables” dove into its role in Prohibition and its most infamous adopted son, Al Capone. Only one made Chicago look like the coolest place ever: “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Is it coincidence that four months after Mike Ditka’s Bears won the 1986 Super Bowl it arrived in theaters? Grossing nearly $100 million and a legend on video, the film and the city walked hand in hand well before Michael Jordan won a playoff round. Matthew Broderick was already a kid who saved the planet in “War Games.” Now he was Ferris, the kid who could do anything and usually pulls it off. Alan Ruck (the weary Cameron), Mia Sara (perky girlfriend Sloane), Jeffrey Jones (buffoon principal Ed Rooney), Jennifer Grey (bitchy sister Jeanie) and original Sonic Youth drummer Richard Edson (the most legendary garage attendant ever) encounter Broderick’s fun-loving Ferris during a spring day’s journey around the Windy City. A charming and likeable work, it reappears on DVD in time for its twentieth anniversary. However, Paramount’s “Bueller…Bueller” edition comes just shy of must-get status.
It’s a sunny day for high school senior Ferris. He’s got to skip school before he graduates, and what day is better than one when the Cubbies play a matinee? So, like anyone in his position, he teams with his buddy Cameron to get Sloane out of school. Together they turn Chicago into their own personal playground with stops at The Art Institute Of Chicago, Wrigley Field and somehow never hit traffic. Ferris prevents getting busted in every possible scenario, escaping with an unholy ease reserved for bank robbers and vice presidents. Writer-director John Hughes quickly crams a day into a movie, and it flies. His witty script still amuses, especially his depictions of high school: spacey students, boring teachers, gullible freshmen, an asshole principle and a tech-savvy Ferris squarely outside who is never seen inside. A typical wizened high school senior, he’s got the sweet room with cool toys no one would leave. School secretary Grace (Edie McClurg) says it all: “The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.” Endearing and enduring, Ferris is the man. Hughes’ film succeeds because Broderick is so convincing.
The cast clicks immediately. Broderick’s stellar support moves as fast as the film: Ben Stein nailed the “voodoo economics” scene in one take, Christy Swanson’s Simone has one of the funniest lines that can never be repeated the same way twice, and “Ferris” was a big reason why 1986 was Charlie Sheen’s coming out party. Staying up for two days before stepping in front of the cameras for Hughes, Sheen would be everywhere by the time “Platoon” picked up four Oscars and, um, “Lucas” was on cable…but “Ferris” stops only for him and a helluva cameo. Ruck and Broderick had been acting together on Broadway in “Biloxi Blues,” and their onstage friendship segued on camera. The duo has a magnetic rapport that is never forced, and unfortunately can never be repeated.
Despite an hour of bonus features, the “Bueller…Bueller” edition is missing two things. The first is the misplaced commentary from Hughes, the only extra on its initial DVD edition. The second omission borders on blasphemy: the movie isn’t complete! A scene when Sloane revives Cameron next to a pool is gone. I don’t know why either. It’s akin to chopping Joseph Cotton out of “Citizen Kane” – someone’s going to notice it right away. It’s also a wasted opportunity to release the greatest soundtrack never issued. General Public, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, The Dream Academy, The English Beat, Big Audio Dynamite and especially Yello make for a killer mix. What up, Paramount? That’s totally lame. Too bad, this was a great shot at a monster DVD blown by clueless moves.
The other bonus features are surprisingly just OK. While seeing Grey pre- and post-nosejob is of fleeting interest, no one brings up the ocean waves on Lake Michigan or the palm trees in Ferris’ neighborhood during the final scenes. Proof that film sets are great places to meet people is the marriage of Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward (parents Katie and Tom Bueller) after the filming – AWESOME! Name the five most memorable film characters of the 1980s, and Ferris Bueller is near the top. It’s been two decades since The Refrigerator and Ferris Bueller ruled Chicago. In some ways, they still do.