“My generation had to be taken seriously because we were stopping things and burning things. We were able to initiate change, because we had such vast numbers. We were part of the baby boom, and when we moved, everything moved with us.”
Before actually entering high school, having no older siblings, I really thought that high school was going to be a lot like it was depicted in John Hughes’ movies.
And in some ways, yeah, sure, it was.
But maybe not nearly enough. Though I chalk that up to the general corniness of the 80s where Hughes did his best work and literally created the model for the modern teen film that took “young adults” seriously. And at the same time let them have their world of escape.
Back in 1999, Hughes spoke to Premiere magazine about how when he first screened The Breakfast Club for Universal, the studio executives hated it. “They said, ‘Kids won’t sit through it. There’s no action. There’s no party. There’s no nudity.’ But they were missing the one really key element of teendom, and that is that it feels as good to feel bad as it does to feel good. At that age, I remember, many times, staring out the window and feeling sorry for myself. ‘The whole world is against me. Nobody understands me.’ It’s a lot of fun. One of the great wonders of that age is that your emotions are open and fresh and raw. That’s why I stuck around that genre for so long.”
I didn’t love Ferris Bueller’s Day Off like others did. Actually, I much preferred it’s 90s television update, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, but even I have to admit there’s something essential in the fantasy epic that is the life of Ferris Bueller, with his creepy best friend (who, once he gets down to the root of his problems, will become a much more interesting person than Ferris), and his incredibly foxy girlfriend who you know just has some kind of dangerous secret lurking beneath her sexy surfaces.
No bullshit: Mia Sara (though I was pretty crazy about Jennifer Grey’s character too) didn’t create them, but she certainly perfected both the ultimate girl masturbation fantasy of my early teens but also got me set down the possibly wrong path of the Hot, Cool Girlfriend Ideal, which, you have to admit, is at least more worthy than the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, right?
The death of John Hughes is absolutely heartbreaking. The fact that is was via heart attack is somehow poetically right. Think about this man and his oeuvre. And then try to think of another director who’s made the same quantity of harmless mainstream hits that can not only satisfy, but satisfy repeatedly, and have had a serious penetration of the zeitgeist.
A selection of his filmography as director (either as writer, director, producer, or some combo of the three):
The Breakfast Club.
Pretty In Pink.
Some Kind Of Wonderful (the reverse Pretty In Pink).
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
If I had to place myself, and this is sad, I’d say that I was at the right age demographic to appreciate the first Home Alone, back in 1990, the year after Tim Burton’s Batman. How tragic is it that my first exposure to something like Weird Science – which, and let’s get this straight: I’m not claiming is a great movie, or that any of these are great by any means, but a movie of a certain kind of value – is through the USA TV show version with Vanessa Angel.
And now I live in a generation, the first of many, that won’t ever understand the appeal of someone like John Candy. With people like Chris Farley and those who may have succeeded that niche, something was diluted and lost. And will continue to be. I’m writing this post-dental surgery and earlier in the dentist’s office as I was waiting for the sadist’s gas to wear off, two of the hot nurses were actually discussing John Candy. One asked the other to name a single John Candy movie. The young woman thought for a moment and then said, “Canadian Bacon?” I was shocked that A) she actually remembered that movie of all movies, and B) that was the movie, to her, that was quintessential John Candy.
Without John Candy the John Hughes of the world are practically extinct.
The same for the Molly Ringwalds of the world. (Or pretty much the entire cast of The Breakast Club, but especially Judd Nelson.) The normal, awkward girl who could be cool. The everygirl (if you identified with her, as opposed to Ally Sheedy). And you could learn that inside every girl that you see at every high school has a whole world of tragedy and comedy and emotions and insight living inside her if you actually took five seconds out of your day to actually discover her. And if you did, you’d probably discover that she was just dying to give her panties to a geek.
And that’s where John Hughes came in, giving a voice to the often voiceless. Setting up a caste system in high school that’s imitated in almost every teen movie from then til now, from 10 Things I Hate About You to Disturbing Behavior to Mean Girls: That scene where a character has to intro us to the weird stereotypes and cliques that are absolutely “unique” to this school and this school alone. The brain/geek, the closeted Jake Ryan, the bad boy, the sportos and waistoids, the princess, the spaz and/or basket case, and he made none of them tragic nor heroic. He just made them as real as the cinema and the audience could stand.