John Hughes, R.I.P.
To me, the death of filmmaker John Hughes felt a little like the death of Michael Jackson. I hadn’t thought of him in years, had forgotten all about him, but when he died I immediately remembered just how terrific his work was. Though he’ll never be considered one of the truly great directors — no one will ever mistake Hughes for Orson Welles or Stanley Kubrick — he created a notable body of work, a collection of films that people still watch and talk about.
In an essay, which you can find here, Roger Ebert describes him as the creator of the modern American teenager film. And since the coming-of-age film is one of my favorite genres, Hughes’ best films left a lasting impression.
I’m talking about “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Sixteen Candles” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.” These films came in pretty formulaic packaging, but still managed to contain priceless moments if humor and insight, as well as a few hard truths. Sure, “Ferris Bueller” is a lighthearted fantasy about the coolest kid on earth, but who can forget Alan Ruck’s performance as Ferris’ morose best friend, Cameron? Cameron understands that his distant father loves his fancy sports car more than him; the scene where Cameron smashes the car is one of the best — and most painful — in the film.
My favorite Hughes film is “The Breakfast Club,” the story of five teenagers forced to spend Saturday detention together. Each teen represents a different high school stereotype — the geek, the jock, the popular girl, the misfit and the rebel - and the film has been accused of reinforcing the very stereotypes it seeks to explore. But “The Breakfast Club” is so well-written, acted and sharply observed that these characters emerge as very real people, the sorts of people we all knew in high school. What I respond to most is the film’s radical idealism — the idea that if people from different cliques and social castes are forced to spend the day together, they’ll actually get to know and like each other.
Of course, Hughes had an unerring eye for young talent. Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer — these actors have never been better than when working for Hughes. Unlike many teen stars, they weren’t glib or snotty. Rather, they were vulnerable and kind and emotional and afraid ... which is how most teeanagers are.
My favorite Hughes character? Duckie, from “Pretty in Pink,” of course. I’m still kind of mad that Molly Ringwald didn’t end up with him.
Here at Foss Forward, posting is going to be a little bit sporadic for awhile, as I broke my wrist in a biking accident over the weekend and will be having surgery later this week. It feels good to write, though, and so I’m going to try to keep it up.
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