Teen movie titles in the eighties were not known for their nuances, and of course, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” is basically one day in the life of the titular hero, played by Matthew Broderick, who faces off against a hopelessly dweeby school principal (Jeffrey Jones), determined to catch him ditching school and make an example. Coincidentally, years later, Matthew would play the Ed Rooney character in the movie “Election,” in which Reese Witherspoon plays overachiever Tracy Flick, who faces off against a hopelessly dweeby teacher, determined to reveal that this girl is really a devious cheater.
In the end, both authority figures fail miserably.
Anyway, the machinations that Matthew goes through in order to have a day off with his best friend (Alan Ruck) and best girl (Mia Sara) are so convoluted that the viewer may be forgiven thinking that it might just have been easier to go to school. But it soon becomes clear, after Matthew’s parents depart for work, leaving their “sick” son in bed, and he gets up and breaks the fourth wall, that his character thrives on this kind of brain power. Setting the stage is half the fun.
The possibility that Matthew’s parents might call or drop by unexpectedly to check on him is the least of his concerns. And if the principal phones them insisting that their son is ditching, they won’t believe a word. The fact that they dote on him, however, makes his sister (Jennifer Grey) absolutely livid with jealousy, and she decides to ditch school as well, in order to expose her brother as faking the whole thing.
Undaunted by all of this, Matthew “persuades” his anal-retentive friend Cameron to borrow Daddy’s Ferrari, which the dad loves so much he won’t even take it out on the road. After faking the death of Mia’s grandmother, they pick her up from school where the rest of the students are vegetating in Ben Stein’s class, and they head off to the Big City.
What do they do there? All sorts of wacky things, including narrowly missing getting seen by Matthew’s dad several times. Meanwhile, back in the suburbs, Jeffrey prowls around trying to tail Matthew and getting utterly humiliated in the process. Even before he starts his hopeless quest, we can see right away that even his secretary (Edie McClurg) thinks he’s a loser.
Matthew does have a few close calls, but by the end of the movie, is triumphantly the same free spirit he was at the start of the movie. If anyone has undergone a character change, it’s Alan, who eventually chooses to stand up to his father after the car gets trashed beyond repair, and also Jennifer, who hooks up with Charlie Sheen at the police station and finally begins to realize that she should worry more about her own life than her brother’s. After all, he got a computer, and she got a car.