John Hughes: A Crash Course
John Hughes’ movies are the ’80s in separately wrapped slices. It’s all there: The frat-boy wit, the homeroom yearning, the synth/drum soundtracks, the smugness, the whiteness. Each of the films that he wrote, produced, or directed was a fractal for the decade’s youth-obsessed culture; each is a miniaturized version of the Reagan years that could be profitably studied by aliens or (same thing) early-21st-century adolescents.
Take The Breakfast Club (1985), an incredibly canny movie that articulated the caste system of a generation of privileged, miserable suburban teens. To complain that Club is a superficial pity party is beside the point: It unerringly reflected the way many American kids saw (and still see) themselves. Or look at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Hughes’ flattering portrait of a prankish high school Uberteen. As self-absorbed as he is self-assured, Ferris was a classic mid-’80s alpha dog, but these days, star Matthew Broderick is smart enough to be playing pathetic-middle-aged-Ferris roles in You Can Count on Me and Election. Where is John Hughes?
Good question. After writing his way into the spotlight in the early ’80s with National Lampoon’s Vacation and Mr. Mom, he clicked as a director with Sixteen Candles (1984), ostensibly a dumb teen comedy but one with a wit and emotional range that seemed brand-new. After Candles, Club, and Weird Science (1985’s Frankenstein-as-party-girl flick), Hughes pulled enough weight to let protege Howard Deutch direct Pretty in Pink (1986) and Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), two high school romances so much of their moment that they can make you cry with nostalgia (unaccountably, they’re the only films in the canon not on DVD). He tried to grow up, but She’s Having a Baby (1988) was small and mean, an ’80s teen’s response to the news that the party was over. Luckily, Home Alone (1990) saved Hughes’ commercial bacon and pointed him toward the jackpot of kiddie mayhem: Two Home sequels, Dennis the Menace (1993), and Baby’s Day Out (1994) all followed. Most filmmakers mature with age; Hughes is one of the very few to scamper in the opposite direction. It would make a hell of a DVD box, if anyone had the nerve to connect the dots.