Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thank You, Mr. Hughes, For Narrating My Teenager Hood

So, I'm late as usual, but John Hughes died two weeks ago.

Part of me was shocked because he was only 59 years old, and I'm always shocked when someone I view as "not old" dies of something like a heart attack. If that person who's only that many years older than I am can die like that, then so could I. Scary in a wake up and get yourself on a treadmill kind of way. Not to mention the human sadness that someone who shouldn't have left us yet is gone too soon.

Another part of me was shocked because entertainers of "my generation" are starting to pass to the other side, and I'm not ready for that yet. It used to be the actors and famous folks of my parents' generation that were the ones showing up on the front page obituaries. The Paul Newmans and the Walter Cronkites, and even the Farah Fawcetts to a degree, are not of my time. As sad as it was to lose these great people, I didn't feel that sense of connection, the sense that someone I, in an extremely indirect way, knew personally was now gone. These aren't "my" people.

But John Hughes, like Michael Jackson, came of celebrity age when I came of age. Both of these men had a huge influence on my teen years. Does it date me to confess that more guys in my high school wore red leather jackets with silver accenting and multiple zippers or that we had a Thriller theme day at school? How about the fact that I saw every John Hughes film in an actual movie theater within days and/or weeks of first release? The timing of Hughes' most well-known movies corresponds with my junior year in high school (Sixteen Candles) through my junior year in college (She's Having a Baby).

Many have written/remarked/eulogized about how well John Hughes captured the world view held almost exclusively by teenagers. I won't say that I agree or disagree with this - actually, I was never able to identify with any one specific Hughes character because they were all very unlike me or even anyone I actually knew. But they were universal, well-presented representations of stereotypes that did exist in high schools everywhere. And I never left the theater after seeing a Hughes film that I didn't feel slightly stunned in amazement. He got it right on multiple levels, that's for sure.

Some of his plots left me with questions I still need answered today. For example:

- Why did Andie choose Blaine over Duckie at the end of Pretty In Pink? Blaine was an asshole.

- How in the world did Ferris, Cameron and Sloane (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) manage to drive from their north shore suburbs into the heart of Chicago, catch a Cubs baseball game (which never begin before 1:00 p.m.), have lunch, visit the Art Institute, the Sears Tower and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, attend a parade, return to the burbs, take a swim in somebody's pool, AND manage to do it all in what I calculate to be at most nine or ten hours? The commute into and out of the city alone would take close to three hours given the rush hour traffic.

- Exactly how much did it cost for Keith to buy those diamond earrings, buy a new suit, and take Amanda Jones out to dinner in Some Kind of Wonderful? He blew his entire college savings, which according to his father had grown big enough to pay for his first year of school. That had to be a fairly serious wad of cash he dropped on that one date.

- Why didn't vice principal Dick Vernon hear the music blasting from the library when The Breakfast Club kids broke out into spontaneous dancing?

But in the end, these puzzlers are irrelevant because everything else about these movies is so close to perfection. As my tribute to John Hughes, here is my ranking of his films in order from my personal favorite to my least favorite. I'm leaving out his films featuring fully formed adults (Planes, Trains and Automobiles - a classic!) and little kids (Home Alone) to focus on those that dealt with teenagers or young adults.

1) Some Kind of Wonderful. It's been explained that Hughes was not happy with the ending of Pretty In Pink - originally, Andie was to end up with best friend Duckie and not popular rich-boy Blaine - so he wrote SKoW in order to get it right. He did get it right. The kiss between Keith and Watts is my favorite movie kiss of all time, and the sparks that flow between them in that one scene showed more chemistry between these two characters than all of the Keith/Amanda scenes put together. Eric Stoltz as Keith was casting perfection, as was Mary Stuart Masterson as Watts. While I'm still not sure what was so special about Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson did great in the role) that would drive Keith to his obsession, the ending when he came to realize where his heart truly belonged made the journey worth it.

2) She's Having a Baby. Of all of Hughes' films, I think this one is the most underrated. Starring Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern as a newlywed couple trying to negotiate the trials of becoming responsible adults, this movie was both hysterical and heartbreaking. I can't count how many times I've seen this film.

3) The Breakfast Club. I'll never forget the exact weekend I saw this movie. I was visiting relatives, and my brother, two male cousins and I decided to go to the movies. The boys wanted to see Beverly Hills Cop. I wanted to see The Breakfast Club. Thankfully they were both playing at the same multiplex within a few minutes of each other. We went into our separate theaters, and when I emerged two hours later, I could barely speak. This movie simply knocked me over, and I was so disappointed that my brother and cousins had missed it.

To this day, however, I have a big beef with the TV stations who air this movie with various "adjustments" to make it TV audience appropriate. And I feel sad for the kids out there who experience the TV version first. I always hope they are inspired to get a hold of the DVD and see it as it was meant to be - full of bad words and all.

4) Ferris Beuller's Day Off. I wish we'd had a guy like Ferris at my high school. Sure, we had popular kids. But none of them were that charismatic. Even more, I can remember wanting more than anything to be Sloane. To be that pretty and have Ferris as a boyfriend? Only in a movie.

5) Pretty In Pink. When I said above that I never quite identified with any Hughes character, PIP spells out why. While Andie was cool in her own, offbeat way, I never knew anyone in my school who dressed so funky, on purpose or not. Nor was there a Duckie. And while we had our share of "rich" kids at my high school, not a one was as jaded or sophisticated as Steff or his girlfriend, Bennie. Kids I knew just weren't that extreme. None of us attended underground music clubs that featured alternative indie bands. I chalk the portrayal of the PIP teens to the fact that it was never specified that PIP took place in a Chicago-area school. Maybe PIP - and SKoW, for that matter - happened in California where kids were way more cool than us midwestern teens. The story was sound, but I still think Andie made a bad choice in leaving the prom with Blaine.

6) Sixteen Candles. A teen classic. I like it mostly for the laughs than for any message or insight into the teen mind it might have tried to convey. In fact, I still find it hard to believe hottie Jake falls for Samantha, a girl he's never even spoken to, simply because he reads a note in which she says she likes him. Too, his supposedly perfect girlfriend was downright ugly, IMO, not to mention a complete bitch. Still, this movie above all the other Hughes' films offers up the most perfect fairy tale. What girl didn't dream that a popular boy like Jake would notice her and fall madly in love?

7) Weird Science. I can honestly say that of all of Hughes' movies, this is the one that I didn't love. I've only seen it once or twice. Maybe it's because I'm not a guy and never got the appeal of creating the perfect woman who will do whatever she's told. Maybe it's because the two real girls that Wyatt and Gary wanted to date were such dippy flakes. This one didn't move me.

So, good-bye Mr. Hughes. Thank you for sharing your amazing talent with us. Many of us adults are the better for having experienced your movies. You left the world a better place, which is all anyone can ever hope to accomplish.


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm . . . I have to say, well said, and Amen. Let me offer the following:

1. I was ok with Andie choosing Blaine over Duckie. Duckie was just a liitle to strange. He was a great "best friend" but he would not have been able to give Andie what she really needed. Can you see Duckie being "romantic"?

2. The SKoW ending was perfect. Keith and Watts were a perfect match. Whereas Dukie was something of a goof, Watts had soul. I was totally cool with Keith ending up with Watts in that context.

3. As to why Amanda Jones was so special - I think you have to be a guy to understand. There was just something about her . . .

4. The Breakfast Club - I remember that weekend like it was yesterday. At that time I would have not appreciated TBC. Now - it is one of my top five favorite movies.

5. Ferris - couldn't agree with you more. I can open up my imagination, but there is NO WAY they could have done all of that on one day! But still a fun movie!

6. 16 Candles - As a 100% American Male, I can't, for the life of me, understand why I like this movie - but I do. Maybe it was Long-Duck-Dong . . .

7. Wierd Science - total guy movie. Totally stupid, but it touched the heart of every guy who felt like he was on the outside looking in.

So I echo you comment - goodby Mr. Hughes. . . and thank you.

- little bro

Lynn M said...

I will agree with you about Duckie - he was definitely on the far side of odd. And really, I didn't even want Andie to end up with Duckie, necessarily. It was more that I thought Blaine didn't have much to redeem him to make her not just tell him to take a long walk. My favorite moment of the movie was the reveal at the prom, when Andie realized Duckie had shown up to take her. They were such a well-matched set. Still, I did like them more as friends.

I'll just have to believe you regarding Amanda Jones. If I don't, the entire movie premise falls apart, right?

Long-Duck-Dong! Yes, he did make the movie. Of course, today they'd never get away with being so completely un-PC. I also liked the grandparents. And Michael Anthony Hall. And Michael Schoeffling, who's character had a hand in naming my kid!

Can't believe you remember that weekend! Told you then you should have listened to me. ;-)