'Ferris Bueller's Day Off': THR's 1986 Review

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

Hughes paid homage to his earlier movies via the license plates on the characters' cars: "VCATION" for National Lampoon's Vacation, "MMOM" for Mr. Mom and "TBC" for The Breakfast Club.

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"At its best 'Ferris Bueller' is a free-spirited romp, a devil-may-care respite from grueling dailiness."

In June 1986, America met Ferris Bueller. The John Hughes title, a breakout for Matthew Broderick, has since become a comedy staple among several generations of moviegoers. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below: 

Now that school is getting out, high schoolers will probably flock to Ferris Bueller's Day Off. This John Hughes story about a sharp, hang-loose kid who ditches school one fine day in the spring should hit home for all students who've been freed from the small-potatoes, niggling authority figures they endure all school year. Chalk up a summer sleeper hit for John Hughes and Paramount. 

Once again, the target for Hughes' rapier wit is high schoolers' hiearchy (drone-on teachers, deans, parents). As is typical in Hughes' film world, the authority figures are at best a hapless, cheerless bunch — rule-mongers who flaunt their positions to lord over kids in controlled situations. And, as usual, Hughes has stacked the deck totally against them. But, hey, if they can't take a joke...

Matthew Broderick stars as Ferris Bueller, a breezy, suburban-enriched whiz who needs a break from high school regimentation. Not that Bueller's ever been overly intimidated by the daily structural lunacies of his teachers or the school's hapless dean (Jeffrey Jones). But it's spring in Illinois, and his young-man's fancy has been aroused. 

He's got enough of an arrogant edge to enlist his frisky girlfriend (Mia Sara) and his reclusive buddy (Alan Ruck) to share in the escapade. Although he's brainy and cocky, he's not mean-spirited. Bueller's not above making things hot for people — but his darts and ruses aren't callous. They're never more than the dupes deserved in the first place. 

At its best Ferris Bueller is a free-spirited romp, a devil-may-care respite from grueling dailiness. Storywise, it pits the quick and nonchalant Bueller vs. the school's grim dean. It's a hilarious duel, even though it's about as one-sided as a Harlem Globetrotters game. Bueller's always several steps ahead of parents, local authorities and teachers and even though some of his day's escapades are a bit unbelievable (they go to the Chicago Art museum  — what kid ditching school goes to an art museum?), they strike all the right escapist chords.

A real highlight of the film is the performance of Broderick, whose freewheeling charm is the perfect spirit for this romp. He's loose, and his what-me-worry attitude is wonderfully engaging. Clearly, Hughes' '60's sensibility shines through at times (John Lennon quotes that are a bit incongruous from an '80s high schooler) and gives the film a glint of benign anarchism. 

(Someday, keep your fingers crossed, Hughes will make a film about his real peers, those mid-30-year-old Ferris Bueller's who are now doing "outstanding" jobs in responsible positions, and would like to take the day off from their corporate headaches.)

Also outstanding are Jeffrey Jones as the hypertensive, crazed dean and Edie McClurg as his addle-brained, bee-hived secretary. Also deserving high grades are Alan Ruck as the troubled, parent-intimidated friend and Mia Sara as his fun-loving junior girlfriend. Ben Stein is convincing as a homeroom teacher. 

Technical credits are top-grade, with major credit going to Hughes for his graceful style transitions and his consistently breezy tone. Credit to editor Paul Hirsch for film's brisk dynamic and production designer John W. Corso for the insightful high school touches. 

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