Appreciation: John Hughes

The lines started coming to mind:

“The question is not, ‘what are we going to do,’ it’s, ‘what aren’t we going to do?’”

John Hughes in 1984, as he was preparing to launch a series of iconic and genre-defining teen movies. AP.

John Hughes in 1984, as he was preparing to launch a series of iconic and genre-defining teen movies. AP.

“What’s happening, hot stuff?”

” . . . demented and sad, but social . . . ”

“It’s called a sense of humor – you should get one – they’re nice.”

“Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

It seems like life has gone pretty fast for those of us whose high school years coincided with John Hughes’ teen movies. When news of his death of a heart attack broke this afternoon, it almost felt like someone I graduated with died, even though Hughes was 18 years older than me and most of my friends in the Class of ’86.

But somehow, despite being a full-generation older, he got us.

Now, you have to understand the context of the time. In the 1980s, film was not catering to us. We mostly saw movies about adults, and if there were kids in them, they were children of the adults. Same goes for TV. And while it was the dawn of MTV, the music channel was still showing videos, not series. There was no outlet giving us a steady diet of our peers.

Then, along came this guy, this voice, who in a quick burst of movies put our very familiar world on the big screen. OK, like anything from Hollywood, it was a somewhat glorified version of our world. I had goofy-cool friends. I never had anyone quite as fabulous as John Cryer’s Duckie in Pretty in Pink. We never got away with quite as much as the Saturday detention dwellers in The Breakfast Club, and definitely, none of us got away with anything on the scale of Ferris Bueller. Matthew Broderick’s quintessential role was as much a fantasy as James Bond.

That was one of the things that made Huges’ teen auteur era — he did write, direct and/or produce many other films, including the Home Alones and Vacations — so strong: it was a variety of films. He didn’t make the same movie five, seven times. There were fairly serious films like Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. There were the crazy adventures like Weird Science and Sixteen Candles, and those total fantasies like Ferris Bueller.

Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller. AP.

Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller. AP.

But there were also common traits, like the central characters were always the average-to-outcast kids, ones who still had big dreams before graduation. There was a mass identity there because, hey, every class only has one homecoming queen, and she probably didn’t feel as secure as she looked. In Hughes’ films, the popular and shunned peeled away their social layers to find common ground. Even ultra-cool Ferris wasn’t the captain of the football team and ended up on the same level with goofy Cameron by the end of the movie.

It’s probably because of the precedent Hughes set that queen-of-the-prom shoo-ins like Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan were cast as outcasts in their teen movies.

Despite cinematic glorification, these were kids we knew, feelings we shared, and in many cases we thought they were all our own until we saw them in John Hughes movies.

Hughes’ parents actually live here in Lexington. If I could tell them anything, it would sound a lot more like a high school friend than a filmmaker appreciation.

John said things that needed to be said, that we needed to hear. He made us take a fresh look at ourselves and others, and he made us feel like we were not alone.

How appropriate The Breakfast Club, arguably his masterpiece, featured a Simple Minds song called Don’t You Forget About Me. Me and my fellow children of the ’80s — and future generations — will never forget John.

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5 Responses to Appreciation: John Hughes

  1. Alison says:

    My anti-spam word is “way.” OK, so that’s more Wayne and Garth than Andie and Duckie, but still, it seemed to fit.

    This—”John said things that needed to be said, that we needed to hear. He made us take a fresh look at ourselves and others, and he made us feel like we were not alone.”—is spot on.

    I made my kids, ages 11 and 14 (and they live in France *gasp* so they are not likely to see Hughes’ films on cable), watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off a couple of weeks ago. Why? Because somehow, somewhere, my 11-year-old son has been exposed to Family Guy. And he showed me a clip on YouTube, and the scene was a tribute to Ferris Bueller’s Trying To Get Home Before His Sister Does, Music And All. I rented Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so that my son would have some context.*

    We have Sixteen Candles on our DVR, just waiting for the right moment. This summer is not it, as my daughter has a friend with her who would be lost without French subtitles.

    My point is that Hughes’ (Hughes’s?) films are still with me, 25 years later, and I want to share them with my children.

    *My son recounted a SpongeBob episode in which Squidward says to a Krusty Krab customer, “I’m squishing your head!” and my son made the squishing movement with his thumb and finger. I burst out laughing, and said “THAT is a tribute to an old comedy show.” I guess Kids In The Hall would be old to an 11-year-old. How many cultural references are flying over his head?

  2. Joe Tackett says:

    I think it says a lot that I can appreciate Ferris Bueller in a different light. As a teen, I associated myself with Ferris, but the older I get I watch the film with a new fondness for the dedicated Mr. Rooney.

  3. Rich Copley says:

    Joe: “Oh, yeah.” The bus scene at the end was one of Hughes’ masterstrokes, and Jeffrey Jones played it masterfully. Then there was the coda: “You’re still here? It’s over.”

  4. DerbyDemon says:

    Although I enjoyed several of Hughes’ movies, I would certainly stop way short of calling “The Breakfast Club” (a) [his] masterpiece. Still, it’s nice to know this guy stayed married to the same woman for years, had children, and grandchildren, and never seemed to be the typical “Hollywood” type. He will be greatly missed.

  5. Chelsea C. says:

    Haha Joe, you ARE Mr. Rooney. I identify more with Ferris’s sister. Younger siblings get all the attention…

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