Monday, March 26, 2007

What I Learned from John Hughes

I have a friend who has a pet theory about John Hughes films. He says that John Hughes is responsible for 75% of all the relationship problems our generation has experienced because he destroyed our ability to realistically assess romantic situations and relationships. My friend may be on to something.

I started thinking about the John Hughes films of my teenage years and the impact they had on my impressionable, puberty muddled brain. For the purposes of this review, I consider THE John Hughes films to be:

Sixteen Candles (1984) JH wrote and directed
The Breakfast Club (1985) JH wrote, directed and produced
Weird Science (1985) JH wrote and directed
Pretty In Pink (1986) JH wrote and produced
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) JH wrote, directed and produced
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) JH wrote and produced

And, for better or worse, this is what I learned:

Just be yourself.

"Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself."
- Matthew Broderick, Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Every Hughes film touches on this. Andie is the quirky, weird girl in Pretty in Pink and WE LOVE HER FOR IT. Garry and Wyatt in Wierd Science meet girls who like them as they are. Ferris Bueller dances to his own drummer. He isn't the star quarterback or president of the student counsel. He has his own unique sense of style... and he's the most popular guy in school. Maybe in the city. He's a freaking legend. In Some Kind of Wonderful, Watts never changes. She stays a tomboy who plays drums and works on cars - and eventually Keith realizes how amazing she is JUST AS HERSELF. John Hughes let us in on the secret that being yourself was really where it was at.

"You had to be big shots didn't you. You had to show off. When are you gonna learn that people will like you for who you are, not for what you can give them."
- Kelly LeBrock, Lisa, Wierd Science

Stick to your principles.

"If somebody doesn't believe in me, I can't believe in them."
- Molly Ringwald, Andie, Pretty in Pink

I swear I learned half of my stubborn willingness to sacrifice anything to stick to my principles from my father and half from John Hughes films. From early on, I knew I should never accept anything less than what I deserved. I never let anyone tell me I wasn't good enough. I have always been honest and direct to a fault. A lot of that is my dad. But a lot of that is Andie and Duckie. And Watts and Keith.

"You remember how I said I'd rather be with someone for the wrong reason than alone for the right one? Well, I'd rather be right."
- Lea Thompson, Amanda Jones, Some Kind of Wonderful

Everyone finds love.

Sam and Jake Ryan. The Athlete and the Basket Case. Andie and Blaine. Keith and Watts. Farmer Ted and Caroline. Duckie and Kristy Swanson. Long Duck Dong and that really tall girl. These films taught us that, no matter who you are, there is someone out there for you. I'm not sure that's really a universal truth, but it's a nice message. It's reassuring. No matter how insecure I was in high school, I never doubted for a moment that someday a boy would love me. Someday an incredibly cute boy was going to come along and realize that I was the most amazing girl he had ever met. John Hughes told me so.

... And everyone just wants to be loved.

"I want a serious girlfriend. Somebody I can love, that's gonna love me back. Is that psycho?"
- Michael Schoeffling, Jake Ryan, Sixteen Candles

To me, this was brilliant new insight into the world. Beautiful, popular Jake Ryan wanted to find someone to love him just as much as Sam wanted to find that. Claire kisses John Bender in the closet and suddenly he isn't so tough, after all. Blaine may be rich and popular, but what he really needs is for Andie to love him and forgive him. This was a tremendous equalizer. People made a lot more sense once I understood this.

"I believed in you. I just didn't believe in me. I love you. always."
- Andrew McCarthy, Blaine, Pretty In Pink

We're not really all that different.

"We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all."
- Emilio Estevez, Andrew / The Athlete, Breakfast Club

Another popular message from Hughes, and probably the most consistent. All of his films lead you back to the idea that the geek and the jock and the rich girl and the tomboy - they all have insecurities. They all screw up. They all worry. They all want someone to love them. They all have imperfect families. They all had problems in high school. It's nice to know.

"Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place."
- Judd Nelson, John Bender / The Criminal, The Breakfast Club

The best guys are geeks and/or hard-core individualists.

"I feel compelled to mention to you, Jake, that if all you want of the girl is a piece of ass, I mean, I'll either do it myself, or get someone bigger than me to kick your ass. I mean, not many girls in contemporary American society today would give their underwear to help a geek like me."
- Anthony Michael Hall, Farmer Ted, Sixteen Candles

I have JH to thank for a lifetime of falling for the most interesting guy in the room. John Bender. Duckie. Cameron. Keith (I still have SUCH a crush on Eric Stoltz). Pretty boys have their work cut out when it comes to me. Instead, I fall for the rebel, the artist, the geek, the guy who has the guts to wear crazy vintage shoes and knows all the words to "Try A Little Tenderness." Super shy men or men who make me laugh or guys who look like trouble from a mile away. It's never the all-american average joe for me. If something isn't wildly different about him, I'll probably never notice him at all. In a John Hughes film, that character is the most appealing. He taught us to love the oddball.

Oddballs and rebels everywhere owe John Hughes big time.

"I know I'm old enough to be his mother, but when the Duck laid that kiss on me last night, I swear my thighs just went up in flames! He must practice on melons or something."
- Annie Potts, Iona, Pretty in Pink

If you want someone badly enough,
they will love you back.

This is where John Hughes caused a LOT of trouble. Sam pining for Jake Ryan. Garry and Wyatt pining for... well, for ANY actual girl. Andie pining for Blake. Watts pining for Keith. John Hughes taught us that the most unlikely romances can work out, and that WANTING IT seems to be the magic ingredient. As my friend is fond of ranting, this has caused no end of trouble. If wishes were horses then beggars would ride. But they aren't. Crushes don't always work out. Frequently they end in tears instead of candle-lit birthday cakes on top of dining room tables with hunky boys. But Mr. Hughes left that part out.

"That's why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they'd call them something else."
- Paul Dooley, Jim Baker / Sam's Dad, Sixteen Candles

Date and make friends outside your social circle / peer group.

There's just a lot of class line crossover in John Hughes films. The geek boy doesn't fall in love with a geek girl. The criminal doesn't meet a great chick who has a pierced nose and a wicked tattoo. They all find love in the unlikely places. So that's where you're apparently supposed to look. I'm not sure it makes sense to teach teens that Mr. Right is almost never going to be the guy you have everything in common with... but I met a lot of interesting people thanks to it. In the midst of exploring outside my comfort zone for nifty boys, I made many great friends I might never have met otherwise. At least insofar as it applies to making friends (remember Molly Ringwald doing Ally Sheedy's make-up in Breakfast Club? I loved that.), it's sound advice. I just don't think EVERY romance needed to be across class lines. The closest he ever came to bringing two people together who were on the same side of the tracks was Watts and Keith. And I liked them together. But they were the exception to the rule. Which leads me to...

The person you're meant to be with
may be right under your nose.

"Don't go mistaking paradise for a pair of long legs."
- Mary Stuart Masterson, Watts, Some Kind of Wonderful

Sometimes the best relationship is the one you end up having with a friend. Maybe instead of looking for the perfect face, you should be looking for an incredible person. Someone who already likes you for who you are. This is the case for Watts and Keith and it was supposed to be the case for Duckie and Andie (and WAS the case in the original ending, but was booed by audiences and didn't serve the rich man / poor man agenda of the film). Honestly, I always figured that Andie was going to regret that one day. It's nice that she got what she wanted and all, but even on his best day, Blaine was no Duck-man. Duckie was the greatest guy EVER. So Pretty In Pink taught me not to make the mistake Andie did, or that Keith ALMOST did. Pay attention, or you might miss out on someone like Duckie. And men like that come along once in a lifetime. If you're lucky.

A certain lack of respect for authority is healthy.

"Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you're crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions."
- Anthony Michael Hall, Brian Johnson / The Brain, The Breakfast Club

Teachers and parents everywhere had John Hughes to thank for low-level rebellion becoming more socially acceptable. Really wild kids were going to act out anyway, but John Hughes taught the tamer kids that questioning authority (and the wisdom of being stuck inside on a perfectly nice sunny day) wasn't really bad. It was just logical. But honestly, John Hughes films are probably the healthiest and safest place for a teen to learn that some rules just need to be broken.

Of course, JH never covered the consequences of rebellion in any detail. He left out the part about how you end up grounded for most of your senior year because your DAD doesn't agree that it's reasonable to skip school to spend the day running around with your beautiful, trouble-maker boyfriend just because it was SUCH a gorgeous day outside...
But I'm not bitter (and, admittedly, don't regret it at all).

"I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I'm going to take a stand. I'm going to defend it. Right or wrong, I'm going to defend it."
- Alan Ruck, Cameron, Ferris Bueller's

Relax. Have fun. Spontaneity is it's own reward.
"Wyatt, you're going to have a heart attack by the time you're forty if you don't learn to relax."
- Kelly LeBrock, Lisa, Weird Science

"It's called a sense of humor - you should get one - they're nice."
- John Cryer, Duckie, Pretty In Pink

Value the moment. Enjoy your youth. Do the thing you are afraid to do. The rewards can be great, and if nothing else at least you lived fully. After all, look at Claire and Bender. He kissed her back. There is a lesson the be learned there.

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."
- Matthew Broderick, Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Oh, and almost everything happens in Shermer, Illinois.

John Hughes grew up in Northbrook, Illinois. Which was once known as Shermerville. His high school was located on Shermer Road. Thus the fictitious suburban town of Shermer, Illinois is born. An homage to his own home town, Shermer, Illinois is featured as an imaginary suburb of Chicago in several John Hughes movies, including Weird Science, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and National Lampoon's Vacation. Also, the high schools in The Breakfast Club, Weird Science and Ferris Bueller's Day Off are all named Shermer High School. There's more on Shermer at The John Hughes Files.

This isn't actually something I learned per se.
I just remember being 14 and wanting to know where Shermer, Illinois was.

For a good read about the Jake Ryan Phenomenon visit this post at The Sheila Variations! Ah, Jake Ryan - eternal symbol of hope.

Addendum 8/6/2009: Click here or simply navigate to the post from today to see this entry preceded and followed by additional notes written after Mr. Hughes' passing.


  1. I'd forgotten how awesome Molly Ringwald's prom dress was in Pretty In Pink. Great photo!

  2. Thanks! I found this great interview from late 2006 with John Cryer and he says of the dress, "I think the costume designer was trying to transcend the era. I think had she done the ultimate '80s dress, it would have ended up being a joke. So she tried to do something very sort of French... and baggy. It is what it is. I think it's very lovely." It really WAS lovely.

  3. It was - the great thing about it was how much it just suited her character in that movie - very original, very unique and completely unforgetable (unusual thing to call a dress I'd just confessed forgetting a short while ago, but you know what I mean).

  4. I think my gut reaction as a teen to the dress was that I wanted to be as BRAVE as she was. It was so pretty but NOT a safe choice (I thought they were going to tone it down for the prom and they went the other way!) I thought she was so beautiful in that film, and a lot of that was my instinctual reaction to how unafraid her character was to be herself.

  5. Oh, definitely. And Annie Potts was brilliant in that movie. Iona is one of my all-time favorite characters.

  6. I did Duckie's bolo.

    I left a long comment here much earlier in the day but I guess it didn't come thru!

    One of the things I loved about Breakfast Club was that the barriers between the kids started comign down after they smoked pot. Like - there wasn't a finger-wagging "don't do this at home" vibe at ALL ... I can't see anything that was negative in that portrayal of kids smoking dope, and I thought (even at the time) that that was pretty remarkable.

    Oh, and a couple of years ago I was in a series of readings for a new play - directed by Pete Masterson (Mary Stuart's father) - and Mary Stuart was involved in a couple of the readings. God almighty, I did my best to be cool, to not be all "wow, I saw you drumming in that John Hughes movie when i was 17 and I love you!!!" - I tried to just be like, "yeah, whatever, you're just an actress, and here we are saying lines to each other, and it is NO. BIG. DEAL." ha ha

    I need to see Some Kind of Wonderful again - it's been YEARS.

  7. Okay, I am laughing out loud at my own type in the first sentence of my comment.

    I DID his bolo???

    No ... I DIG his bolo.

  8. What I loved about Iona was that - for the first time, I think, Hughes was giving us an adult character who was just as much an off-kilter rebel as his best teen characters. Iona was an adult woman with her own business and she was still SO COOL. It gave me hope for the future. Insight that growing up didn't mean having to change who you were.

  9. Haha! I was thinking, "Wow. Sheila wore the bolo a'la Dickie. Crazy." I hate that your previous comment disappeared!

    I am sitting here wondering how it is possible that I have never bought a copy of Some Kind of Wonderful. I have to buy it right away! I would have had heart palipatations sitting in a room with Mary Stuart Masterson. I respect her as an actress ANYWAY, but there's nothing like the reaction you have to people you grew attached to in a role when you were like 13-16. They are icons to you forever. There's no helping it.

  10. I have a great story about Some Kind of Wonderful - I've probably already told it at Sheila's place. That movie was filmed at San Pedro High School, which I attended for about five minutes, but I still had a bunch of friends that went there and watching the movie for the first time with them was a BLAST. Everybody was screaming "like, oh my god! There's my locker!" and stuff like that. It's so funny...yeah, the locker you see EVERY damn day. Put it in a movie and it becomes the most exciting thing in the universe.

  11. The mundane always grows larger to us in importance once someone puts it in a movie, doesn't it? The last town I lived in - in South Florida - had a movie filmed in their downtown area. When I moved there someone proudly took me to see which corner a shot took place on. Just an ordinary street corner. The thing is - if it had been from a movie I loved - I know I would have been all kinds of excited.

    I bet it made watching the movie that much more fun!

  12. hahaha I still feel this weird thrill when i realize, watching some movie - "Oh! That was filmed outside the cafe I have lunch in on 12th Street!"

    Like - why is this thrilling. A bazillion movies are filmed in new York.

  13. I know. I still remember how LOUD and hard all my friends and I cheered when we saw the Hawthorne Grill in Pulp Fiction. A dumb restaurant that wasn't even open anymore that we pass every day. In a city where we find film crews more obnoxious than novel (we always joked that those yellow signs with the arrows and initials directing the cast and crew where to show up actually meant "lots of jag-offs THIS WAY!!!").

  14. It's so funny that you say that because, on a trip to NYC late last year, my friends and I sought out the diner from When harry Met Sally. All excited. Took picutres. Complete dorks.

    Later that day we were walking and apparently walked right into an area that a crew was trying (and failing) to rope off for a film to be shot. The actors and camera crew were across the street getting set up and my friends (who are New Yorkers) and I were being angrily shooed out of the way by some semi-official looking guy. I was all kinds of indignant. Ten minutes before I was thrilled to be somewhere a movie had been shot but there I am on an NYC street getting ready to give some poor guy who's just doing his job a big old rant about public streets blah blah needing better signs etc. whatever.

    It took a few more blocks for the irony to occur to me.

  15. Well, the rope dude could have been nicer. I just can't stand the crews that are rude about it and act like people who are trying to go about their own business and life are somehow an enormous inconvenience to their movie. Then again, I'm just bitter, because there's an old shopping mall near my house that's regularly used to film movies and they make a MESS of the whole neighborhood a lot of the times. On occassion, we'll get a crew in who are just absolutely inconsiderate to locals.

  16. Great post and insights. I agree with pretty much everything you wrote.

    Reading that sheila did Duckie's bolo was just gravy.

  17. //t took a few more blocks for the irony to occur to me.//

    hahahaha I so know what you mean.

  18. This post was brilliant! I love those movies! You're assessments all were right on target. Most of all, though, I can't believe I've never heard of "Some Kind of Wonderful", and will have to check it out immediately.

  19. Does it say something wierd about my priorities that I get a huge sense of accomplishment and well-being from the fact that this post has let Liza know abut Some Kind of Wonderful? Like I'm all spreading the gospel of Hughes or something?

  20. No doubt JH has jacked me up pretty good. It's taken a lot of therapy and long conversations with complete stangers for me to get over what he's done. I've written as much on a post of my own at