Thursday, August 06, 2009

One More Time, My Homage to John Hughes

I originally wrote What I Learned From John Hughes in March of 2007. My complaint, while in jest, was made to express primarily one thing: John Hughes had an impact on my formative years and my personal development through an art form that is dear to my heart. His films may not have been high art but they accomplished something that great art aspires to: they touched us, they let us know we weren't alone at a time when we most needed that message, and in some strange way they even changed us and impacted the people we became. What a strange, significant and lasting mark to have made on the world he left behind.

So here it is, one more time:

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.

John Hughes
February 18, 1950 – August 6, 2009

I want to say thank you.

For a redheaded character who WAS the pretty girl. For the hope that someone like Jake Ryan might exist. For an awkward tomboy who got her man. For John Cryer lip syncing to Otis Redding, a moment in film so glorious to me that I never really recovered from it. For so very many characters I loved and performances that stayed with me. For the sense that the awkwardness, the angst and the insecurity I struggled with in my teenage years was such a universal experience that some guy was actually making films about it. Thank you for the laughter. Thank you for some of the most quotable dialog ever written. Thank you for the bubble gum of it all. Thank you for pop culture icons. Thank you for the glorious geeks and unforgettable rebels. Thank you for giving us Shermer, Illinois.


  1. Yes, that was a lovely tribute.

  2. As you know, i grew up in a bubble so most of these movies missed me in my teenage years but managed to catch me at the beginning of college. Luckily they weren't totally lost on me. But I have to admit, i haven't seen the last one and now, because of your blog, i feel like i'm missing out. Thank you for determing what i'm doing tonight. :)