I feel the way about John Hughes the way most of you feel about George Lucas. His work, especially his directorial work in the 80’s (the only period of time in which he wore that hat), was so perfectly dialed in to the times that his films are not only still relevant and entertaining, but nostalgic time capsules that perfectly capture that era like lightning bugs in a jar. Since he left the director’s chair behind, there has been a void in teen geared filmmaking that a number of filmmakers have tried to fill. Occasionally a filmmaker gets close with gems like CAN’T HARDLY WAIT, 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, SUPERBAD or ADVENTURELAND (with Greg Motolla getting close to being worthy of his shoes) that evoke the aesthetic he seemed to be able to effortlessly conjure. But even then, we consider these reminiscent. Never superior.
Hughes was a very special kind of writer/director, one very much in touch with his childhood and teen years. As a result, he was able to capture what it was that really made us teenagers and distill it just right to fill his characters with a manner that made us identify with all of them – even the villains. Everyone of his characters - no matter how brazen, no matter how popular, and no matter how lucky with the opposite sex they were - was absolutely terrified of being found out, disliked or humiliated. Their fears were our fears. And in his opus THE BREAKFAST CLUB, he took what was on the surface a popcorn comedy about school kids stuck in detention and showcased a microcosm of the terror and detachment we all felt (or feel) and let us all know that it was all okay…because we were not alone. Not even close.
And that went for every single one of his characters save one: his super hero. His teenage James Bond. Ferris Bueller. Of course rather than the ability to fly or super strength or invulnerability to bullets, Ferris had a power that made him a god amongst high school students. Self confidence. He wasn’t afraid of anything. Everything he tried he was successful at. People loved him. Every girl wanted him and every boy wanted to be him. But even then Hughes was smart enough to make him best friends with one of Hughes most dysfunctional characters ever, Cameron. And through Ferris and Cameron’s adventures, he illustrated the secret of life – that with the right amount of self-confidence and bullshit, you can accomplish anything.
After all, if you can convince a snooty/snotty waiter that you are Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago, how hard can high school really be?
Hughes was a master with dialog. His characters always sounded age appropriate and managed to bear all, even when they didn’t realize it. Hell, he even managed to make us forget that the majority of THE BREAKFAST CLUB took place in the same room and was effectively a play, by setting it up and pacing it just right to feel like any other film. His films were snappy, fun and even the most frivolous among them carried an emotional punch. Even the one’s he didn’t direct, but instead wrote and produced like SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL and PRETTY IN PINK (which most consider part of his holy high school trilogy along with SIXTEEN CANDLES and THE BREAKFAST CLUB).
As his work began to evolve, he moved away from films that would be considered classics, but gave us one last immortal comedy in 1987 - PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES – a film that it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without. And after leaving directing behind, he would continue writing steadily through the 90’s, creating the kid geared HOME ALONE and BEETHOVEN series.
But Hughes greatest legacy will be his teen films. You can’t make one, a good one that is, in this day and age without garnering a comparison to Hughes. Being called on par with a Hughes film is no small compliment. It means you’ve captured the characters properly, made it fun and created something lasting. Because that was the soul of what Hughes did. His films are my comfort films. I know many of them by heart. And this is a sad, sad day for those grew up with his films as a beacon in the dismal, murky hopelessness of High School.
John Hughes, our friend Edmond Dantes, has passed away. He was 59.