Review: Jason Reitman's FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF Live Read
Like many of you, Ferris Bueller's Day Off is one of my favorite movies. I loved it so much that when I was in high school, I had a customized license plate that said "DAY OFF." (Tyler and I recently recorded an episode of The 5Cast in which we listed our favorite Ferris Bueller moments, and if you're wondering how obscure my knowledge of this film might be, check out my number one moment.) So when I heard Jason Reitman's Film Independent at LACMA Live Read series was planning on doing a reading of the script this month, I had to be there.
Take a look at the cast list:
Fred Savage as Ferris, originated by Matthew Broderick
Martin Starr as Cameron, originated by Alan Ruck
Clark Gregg as Rooney, originated by Jeffrey Jones
Michaela Watkins as Grace, originated by Edie McClurg
Catherine Reitman as Sloane, originated by Mia Sara
Mae Whitman as Jeanie, originated by Jennifer Gray
Richard Speight, Jr. as the Econ teacher, originated by Ben Stein
I've been on hand for a few of these Live Reads before (The Princess Bride, Reservoir Dogs, The Big Lebowski), and this was the 30th one Film Independent at LACMA has hosted. As usual, Reitman read the stage directions as stills of the locations are projected on a big screen behind him, giving the audience a sense of place and allowing us to better imagine the setting our characters are going through at any given moment. Reitman chose John Hughes' original draft of the screenplay for last night's Live Read, and while that draft isn't seismically different from the final movie everyone knows and loves, it still has enough alterations, tweaks, and added scenes that it kept everyone on their toes and made things interesting. I think the best way to do this is to talk about some of those scenes first, and then dive into the rest of it.
The original script is more concerned with death and mortality than the lighthearted final movie. On a boat ride in Chicago, Cameron asks Ferris and Sloane if they're worried about a nuclear war, and there are a few lines sprinkled throughout the script — even from Ferris — that slow the story down as he provides commentary on hippie culture, the war on Vietnam, and bashes the concept of nostalgia. Ferris talks about his mom being a former hippie who lost her touch: "when she listens to the White album, she doesn't hear music anymore," he says, "only memories. Nostalgia is her favorite drug. It'll probably be mine, too...I hope not." They also go to a strip club (!), where Cameron is mesmerized, Sloane just wants to leave, and Ferris is excited not by the strippers, but just at the fact that they were able to get into the place at all. That scene ends with everyone fading away as Ferris does a bizarre Elvis impression and sings a song. (I'm definitely glad it was cut.)
There are some jovial additions as well. In one of the scenes in which it cuts back to Ferris in his house as he's getting ready for his day off, he's watching The Road Warrior and pretending he's driving Lord Humungus' car. He also searches his house for cash to finance his adventures while Pink Floyd's "Money" plays in the background. When Cameron looks down from the Sears Tower and says, "I think I see my dad," it originally cut to his dad (Morris, who remains unseen in the final movie) standing on the street down below the building saying, "I think I see my car," just as the parking lot attendants whiz by in the Ferrari.
Other minor additions aside, let's get into how it all went down last night. Savage was excellent as Ferris, bringing the same effortless, boyish charm that Broderick oozed in the film. He really got into it, adopting a pitiful voice when he was trying to convince his parents he was sick, donning a Cubs hat during the baseball game sequence, and performing a showstopping lip sync of "Twist and Shout" during the parade scene. He got out of his chair, danced across the stage, came down into the crowd and danced with an audience member, stood on someone's chair in the second row, and led the audience in a sing-a-long during the big, rousing "Ahhh" moments of the song. (Here, for those who don't know it well.)
Catherine Reitman (Jason's sister) was a solid Sloane, and Martin Starr was the best Cameron you could have asked for outside of Alan Ruck himself. Cameron's a great character, and part of the reason for that is his transformation from a sad sack in the beginning to eventually coming to the realization that he needs to stand up for himself. Starr brought a real sense of melancholy to the character that's essential for the role, but his deadpan delivery also added tremendously to the comedic aspects of Hughes' screenplay. Clark Gregg was a very good Rooney, radiating smugness and cowardice at all the right moments. And while Edie McClurg is one in a million, Michaela Watkins held her own as Rooney's hilarious secretary Grace, imbuing her with a zaniness that wasn't an imitation but still captured the essence of the character.
But the night's MVP was Mae Whitman, who absolutely slayed as the stuck-up Jeanie. Her delivery was impeccable and her comedic timing was spot-on. When it came time for her character to go to the police station near the end, Reitman brought out a special guest to fill Charlie Sheen's role of the burned-out teenager: James Van Der Beek. He and Whitman played off each other perfectly, and Whitman also rocked it as Simone, the student in Ferris' class who gives the "I guess it's pretty serious" speech.
The whole purpose of these Live Reads is to shine new light on classic screenplays, and I'm glad Reitman chose the original draft because it provided some insight into what Hughes was thinking about when he sat down to tell this story. It allowed there to be some surprises for the die-hard fans who can recite the movie line by line, and since we all know exactly what's in the final movie, it also taught us a few lessons about editing as well: when to tighten things up or let scenes breathe a little more. But most of all, it showed just how well-formulated this idea was from the start, and it was great to see a talented group of actors recreate an early version of the adventures of one of cinema's most iconic mischief makers.
If you're in the Los Angeles area, you should really look into becoming a member of Film Independent. They always put on great events, and they have a ton of cool Q&As with filmmakers and creative people in the industry. Find out more about them here.