Thank you, John Hughes.
His name hasn’t come up in the “Goodbye Dead Famous People” lists of 2009—at least not the one’s I’ve seen. Checking IMDB, it’s not hard to see why. Looking over the list of movies Hughes wrote from 1991 onward, tells us that an entire generation has grown up only knowing him as the writer of (sigh with me, Gen-Xers) Dennis the Menace, Beethoven’s 4th, Baby’s Day Out and Home Alone 3. But let’s roll back a screen or two. Scrolling over the movies Hughes wrote in the 1980’s is a treasure trove of movie highlights.
Mr. Mom. (1983) I wasn’t even ten, yet my entire family watched and enjoyed this movie. Among other things, this movie opened my eyes to the idea that one shouldn’t assume that the husband is going to get a new job before the wife does, and an iron makes an excellent instrument for warming up cold grilled cheese sandwiches.
Vacation. (1983) My family didn’t watch this movie until 1988, after we spent a month driving across the country and back in a station wagon, but oh we did laugh. Classic scenes, classic lines, classic story.
Sixteen Candles. (1984) A preview of what it would be like to be a teenager, though I knew even then my teenage years would be a lot more of Joan Cusack, and a lot less of Molly Ringwald.
The Breakfast Club. (1985) Lori Tollinger’s mother came downstairs at just the wrong moment, leaving me with an awkward memory of the most dramatic scene. This movie also fed my bad boy fixation and I worried for years that my hair would unknowingly be as dandruffy as Ali Sheedy’s. Now, thanks to psoriasis, it is, though my adult self handles that better than my teenage self ever would have.
Pretty in Pink. (1986) Girls who can sew do get the guy. Also Annie Potts as the coolest small business owner ever.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (1986) Forshadowed my teenage years: upon viewing with my mother and brother I grew annoyed that my mother kept saying, “Principals aren’t really like that,” “Parents aren’t really like that,” “That isn’t even possible.” Being an adult and not a pre-adolecent like me she missed the point. This is the perfect movie about what we all wish adolescence was like. Also includes one of the most beautifully filmed visits to an art museum ever. And Charlie Sheen as a bad boy. Which it turns out he really is. Hughes could have stopped here, with this movie, he really could have. But he continues.
Some Kind of Wonderful. (1987) This movie will forever remind me of Lori Tollinger. Captures the delicate negotiation between parents and children. What happens when their dreams are different? Also a reminder that getting the girl isn’t the point, sometimes.
Uncle Buck. (1989) Aside from starring the funniest fat man ever, John Candy, it also includes the best illustration of why a toothpick is not the best prop when trying to make a good impression on a girl. I saw this the first week of school my ninth grade year, on a school night and it will always represent that freedom of adolescence, even if I can’t really recall much of the plot.
Home Alone. (1990) I saw it. You saw it. Heck, everyone saw it. The irony of John Hughes in my life was that by the time I had actually caught up to the age of his characters in his best movies, he started writing movies for children the age I was when I started watching his movies about teenagers. But Kevin McCallister’s fight against burglars will forever be remembered by millions of Americans.
And thus ends my relationship with John Hughes. He went on to write movies that I consider really awful, though I’ve not seen most of them. I went on to face my high school years without movies about teenagers. But what he did write about teenagers before I came of age I found to be true to my experiences. When I watch John Hughes movies, I’m usually reminded of the elementary school me who saw those films and tried to figure out what being a teenager would be like. He offered a portal into a world I hadn’t experienced yet, and many of his observations turned out to be true to my experience.
I like to think that, had he not died this year, he would have turned some corner and begin writing movies that mattered again. But maybe not. Maybe his movies that mattered only came at a certain time in his life. That would have been okay too. They were enough.