‘’You know who John Hughes is, right?’’ I casually asked my husband the other day. He didn’t I wasn’t surprised. He’s not into films in quite the same way as I. He’s only into the finished product and pays little attention to the people responsible for getting the whole thing started. ‘’He wrote and directed The Breakfast Club.’’ I reminded, obviously having told him this before.
‘’So, he’s a washed up 80’s director?’’ Interjected a friend of my husbands, who was actually not in the conversation, but clearly thought his input was necessary. Luckily, there is a 5 second delay on my physical reactions, because immediately I wanted to put him in a headlock and refuse to let go until he took it back. Instead, I just said, ‘’He is not a washed up 80’s director.’’ ‘’Oh yeah, what’s he done lately?’’ he asked, and I actually thought to myself, is this guy serious?
‘’Nothing. He died in 2009.’’
‘’That’s no excuse.’’ He replied, dangerously closer to that headlock. ‘’What did he do after The Breakfast Club?’’ “Ummm, Ferris Buller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, Some Kind of Wonderful. You know, to name a few.”
At that point, I chose to rescue myself from what was turning into a ridiculous argument, with someone who, let’s face it, isn’t one of my people. And by ‘my people’ I mean the disciples of the world according to John Hughes. Although, it is worth noting, when he referred to ‘’the red-head in the movie’’ I became slightly hysterical.
‘’OH MY GOD! HER NAME IS MOLLY RINGWALD! MOLLY. RINGWALD.’’ Because how the f**k dare you not know the red-head’s actual name.
Why did this person’s myopic comment, dismissing someone I hold in such high regard, cause a near violent reaction? Imagine, for a moment, how Luke Skywalker would react if someone started to trash Yoda. Or Obi Wan. He wouldn’t stand for it. They would be looking at the business end of his lightsaber. Because, these were the people who taught him, guided him, showed him how to navigate his way through life, with this special talent that not everyone had.
And that’s what John Hughes was for, not only me, but an entire generations of kids in the 80’s. John Hughes was our Jedi master.
But, he didn’t start out as a Jedi master. In the 1970’s he was a college dropout. Selling jokes to the likes of Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers. It was this talent of writing quick witted one-liners that led to working in advertising. While working on a Virginia Slim campaign for Philip Morris, he went to New York where he used to visit National Lampoon magazine office. One day, he handed in an article about a wacky family vacation. If you were to compare John Hughes’ work to a tree, that would be the seed. That article was what sprouted the screenplay for ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’. It was almost by accident. You see, he didn’t start out as a filmmaker. John Hughes had no technical training whatsoever. He wasn’t like Spielberg, chasing his friends around with a Super 8, as soon as he could hold a camera long enough for it to focus. No, filmmaking found him.
I was 12 the first time I saw ‘Sixteen Candles’. I couldn’t have known at the time, but after the movie ended, I cried. It wasn’t a sad ending. I think I cried because for the first time, I really felt as if a film were speaking to me specifically. I wasn’t 16 and my family had not forgotten my birthday, but I was an awkward young girl, who didn’t feel like I belonged to anyone. But, I connected to this world. Shermer, Illinois, the fictional town where most of his films were set. I saw myself in Sam Baker. I had a Jake Ryan. I had clueless parents, annoying siblings, and goofy friends. The story, the clothes, the actors, the dialogue. It was so real. I couldn’t get enough. I must have seen it over 1000 times. To this day, I could probably tell you every word. Go ahead. Let’s run lines together. I can do them all.
Next up, ‘The Breakfast Club’. I drug my dad to the theatre one Sunday afternoon to see this one. I don’t think he’s ever really forgiven me either. It didn’t resonate with him as much as it did with me. I’m going to go out on a limb and say, this might be my top favourite of the Hughes catalogue. This movie wouldn’t have worked in the hands of any other director. Hughes had a knack for getting the most incredible performances from his actors. He did that, by just trusting them. Letting them evolve with the work. Judd Nelson was quoted as saying, ‘’We would have done anything for him.’’ Like, he was a messiah. This unassuming, soft-spoken, man, was like God, and the actors were his followers. He treated them like they were all on the same level though. Never condescending just treated them with respect. This came through in his films. He treated his audience the same way. I was totally like Alison, ‘’The basket case’’. I remember leaving the theatre that day, feeling relieved. Finally, someone ‘got it’. My father, bitched the whole way home about how awful the movie was, and all I could hear in my head was, ‘’I said la lalalala lalalala la la la la la la la la la la’’ John knew how to pick just the right song to be the cherry on top of an already fantastic scene. No matter where I am when I hear ‘Don’t you (forget about me)’ I want to raise a triumphant fist, trench coat flapping in the breeze, as I march across the football field. But, I’m usually at the grocery store, or waiting for the bus. Just doesn’t have the same effect.
Then there were ‘Pretty in Pink’ and ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ Even as I’m typing the titles of those movies, my chest swells and I swoon. Andi was the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Blaine, the ‘Richy’ and the object of her desires. And Duckie. The scene where he comes to pick her up after work, only to realize she has a date with Blaine. (‘’His name is Blaine, that’s a major appliance, that’s not a name’’) Jon Cryer was truly heart breaking in that scene. I’d felt his pain. It was all too real. But, that’s what I loved about it. I could identify with this film when nothing else in the world made sense.
‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ is possibly my second favourite. This particular film was written by Hughes, but not directed by him. This movie introduced me to my great love, Eric Stolz. I was older, and this movie was a little darker and more edgy. His writing grew with his audience. I recently introduced this movie to a younger friend of mine. He was with it right up until the very end. The plot of the movie, in a nut shell, Keith loves Amanda, Amanda loves Hardy, Watts, (Keith’s tomboy best friend) loves Keith. The movie follows Keith and his relentless pursuit of Amanda, who during a break up with d**kface, Hardy, decides to take the shy, sweet, Keith up on his offer of a date. And so this elaborate date is set up to impress her. There is an adorable and romantic kissing scene, involving Keith and Watts. Anyway, fast forward, climax of the movie, big showdown between Keith and Hardy, and when he is leaving, he sees Watts, and realizes, this is who he’s wanted all along. He gives her the diamond earrings and tells her, ‘’You look good wearing my future’’, and awww… My friend wasn’t buying it. He couldn’t understand how he could spend the whole movie in love with one person and then all the sudden, BAM! be in love with someone else. No amount of explaining that he only thought he was in love with Amanda. She was right when he said he was only going after her because he had something to prove. I gave up trying to convince him. But, the one important thing I took away from that film, was the line, ‘’I would rather be alone for the right reasons, than with someone for the wrong.’’
I could of course, go on for days, about how each of his movies touched and inspired me. I learned so much about being a real human being. Even his movies that weren’t geared for teens, like ‘Uncle Buck’ or ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’’ or even ‘Home Alone’, gave me such endearing examples of genuine human emotion. He still wrote screenplays, but under a pseudonym. I guess, you still have to pay the bills, even after you are done inspiring a generation. He left a lot of questions unanswered. Kind of like, filmmaking’s J.D. Salinger. There is even a movie about a group of filmmakers who tried to go and smoke him out, but they came up empty handed.He really loved the underdog. A common theme in his movies, is people overcoming great odds to get what they want. I mean, Samantha Baker ACTUALLY ends up with Jake Ryan! What! Does stuff like that ever happen? I mean, she was a gangly, awkward freshman. He had a gorgeous woman, all men desired. No. He wanted something real. And he liked the way she looked at him. He thought it was ‘’kinda cool.’’ It gave me hope. All through my teen years, I would ease the wounds of my unrequited wounds with a Sixteen Candles viewing. I didn’t even care than mine never ended happily. When I saw Sam and Jake kiss at the end, over the birthday cake, I just knew it would happen to me. If it could happen to Sam, it could happen to me, by God.
John Hughes gave up fame. Not the other way around. Washed up? Hardly. John Hughes left a legacy most writer/directors can only hope for. And if you ask those who were strongly influenced, Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, Joss Whedon, they will fully admit that very same thing. You see his influence everywhere. Bender, the Futurama character, is named after John Bender. Countless movies and episodes have been dedicated to or referenced one of his films.
And his movies aren’t just for my generation. The lessons are being handed down. My nieces and nephews now love and quote these movies. If I had kids, I wouldn’t bother trying to teach them anything. I would just hand them John Hughes films, and say, ‘’Here, I couldn’t say it better if I tried.’’
So what if he shrugged off Hollywood. He never enjoyed it anyway. He suffered the critics who didn’t get his movies for as long as he could. Also, he was never flashy, and into buckets of money, fast cars, and doing lines of blow off a prostitutes tits. He was more the quiet, homebody, planting a garden type guy. Also, he was quoted as saying Hollywood killed his good friend John Candy. He had nothing more to give. His audience had gotten older and moved on. He had given them all the lessens they needed to grow up. He had nothing left to say. And like a true gentleman, he bowed out. Never overstaying his welcome.
In the movie, this is in reference to how we grow up and become awful like our parents. But sadly, on August 6th, 2009, that’s what his heart did. On a trip to Manhattan to visit his son, he was walking around, and suddenly suffered a fatal heart attack. I found out the way I find out most everything now days, through Facebook. Someone posted, ‘’John Hughes RIP’’ My heart fell. I quickly went to Google to check this wasn’t one of the cruel celebrity death rumours people are so fond of starting. But, there it was. The CNN article confirming the man who had been so influential in making me the person I am today, was gone. He taught me it was OK to be who I was. Whether it was a jock or a shy geek, or popular rich kid. We all had a voice. And we all matter. And now his voice was gone. My heart, was broken. More than anything, it made me realize for the first time, I really was getting older. But, thanks to him, my heart will never die. And his voice will live on, to inspire future generations of underdogs. Just like him.