In 2010, Emma Stone’s character in Easy A, Olive Penderghast, spoke what I’ve kept in the storage of my brain for some time:
“Whatever happened to chivalry? Does it only exist in 80’s movies? I want John Cusack holding a boombox outside my window. I wanna ride off on a lawnmower with Patrick Dempsey. I want Jake from Sixteen Candles waiting outside the church for me. I want Judd Nelson thrusting his fist into the air because he knows he got me. Just once I want my life to be like an 80’s movie, preferably one with a really awesome musical number for no apparent reason. But no, no, John Hughes did not direct my life.”
This entire monologue was clutch, but that last line, oh, it had my inner film buff screaming. John Hughes was a writer/director I, along with the majority of the world, looked up to in awe. His movies are simple in style. There aren’t any intricate plots or sets. Characters don’t feel out of touch, they speak plainly and without apology as they move toward their goals. Seriously, so simple. Yet, it’s the depth within this straightforwardness that speaks to the most vulnerable parts of us. John Hughes had the gift of transferring our inner thoughts, nuances, angst, dreams, gross habits and quirks from the privacy of our minds, to paper, then screen–no matter the age gap between him, his characters and his audience. His art cemented its own style in film, and most notably, created a fresh and unique template for teen movies.
When it comes to authenticity and feel good vibes in cinema, no one can hold a candle to John Hughes. Some try as a form of tribute–Easy A. Others follow the formula he concocted. However, there isn’t anyone with the mindset of outdoing his achievements or remaking them. And for good reason: You can’t out-king the king. So your best bet is to acknowledge this and pay tribute with a celebration of his filmography. Which is exactly what we have in store for you, the readers of vashtie.com. Tie up your scuffed chucks, slide on your wayfarer Ray Bans and get cozy. We’re reflecting on a handful of our favorite John Hughes classics.
Like the main character in Sixteen Candles, Samantha Baker, I went into high school thinking my awkward body would sculpt out into curves and guys like Usher and Freddie Prinze Jr. would crush on me–thanks unrealistic ’90s teen movies. Except that’s not how this thing called adolescence goes. We aren’t promised a bangin’ body and hot boy when we turn sixteen. The actual milestone age was just another day for some of us–an uncomfortable birth anniversary which teased our daydreams in our face. You might’ve longed for a sleek brand new mustang and the affection of your crush as a birthday gift from the universe to you, but instead received a lackluster celebration. Or, if you had the luck of Samantha, you were plagued with the misfortune of no one remembering your birthday at all.
When I found the immaculate film, Sixteen Candles, on the day I turned sixteen, I had to check the year it was made. It felt to relevant and accurate. I couldn’t believe something created in 1984 was still speaking to its target audience.
The film opens with a family readying for their day. A mother of three is sending her three children off to school. The first two, to elementary and the other, Samantha (Molly Ringwald), to high school. The mother is throwing out verbal checklists for her kids, which include expectations for Samantha’s older sister’s upcoming wedding. By the end of the scene’s suburban household chaos, it becomes apparent to Samantha that her entire family has forgotten her birthday. This upsets her and subtracts from the minimal self-esteem she has. She always pictured the sweet sixteen American dream for this particular birthday: a dope party, a new car, a new body and the love of her ultimate crush, Jake Ryan. Samantha gets through the hours of her birthday in an angsty mood–stealing glances at Jake Ryan and avoiding the one boy that’s relentless in pursuing her, a school geek named, Farmer Ted (Anthony Michael Hall). Side note: Ain’t it a shame it always worked that way? You wanted the school hunk, but all you could pull was the horny robotics club kid who looks like he’s thirteen.
Needless to say, after their rough start, her and Farmer Ted form a friendship through their encounters. It becomes clear that Ted will stop at nothing to deliver Samantha the birthday treat of her dreams, even if it means hooking her up with Jake–who wants more from a relationship than what the vapid, vain girlfriend he has now can offer. By the story’s end, Jake finds Samantha at the church her sister is getting married at. He’s standing in front of a red Porsche, waiting for Samantha to meet him. Together, they give Samantha’s birthday the proper acknowledgement it deserves.
“Every director I had worked with up to that point was significantly older. I didn’t expect anybody that was sort of young and cool, like him. John definitely didn’t feel like a parent to me. He rarely ever felt like an authority figure. But I wouldn’t say, exactly, that he felt like he was the same age, either. I feel like he was different than anybody else in my life, before or since. I feel like we sort of mutually idealized each other from the get-go.” -Molly Ringwald on John Hughes, Vanity Fair.
Molly Ringwald was John Hughes’ teen muse before he’d ever met her. After completing scripts for National Lampoon’s and Mr. Mom, Hughes was given a stack of headshots of young actors. He found Ringwald’s photo and tacked it to a bulletin board near his writing space. This, along with other creative inspirations, enabled him to crank out the entire script for Sixteen Candles over the weekend of the Fourth of July.
Hughes was also impressed by Anthony Michael Hall’s performance in Vacation. So much so, he wrote the role of Farmer Ted specifically for him.
The Breakfast Club
In what can be described as the quintessential representation of teenage life, The Breakfast Club brought layers to a once one dimensional trope.
The film brought together a handful of personalities and trapped them together in the library for Saturday school. Over a string of hours, the characters get to know one another in disagreements, vulnerable moments, lunch, music and even a toke circle. There’s tears, laughs and shouts, which causes the gang of teens to realize they have more in common than they assumed. Claire, the princess, is fed up with her group of fake friends and the perfect front she has to put up everyday. Due to his parents’ overbearing and strict ways, Brian, the brain, attempted suicide after he failed an assignment. Andrew, the athlete, is pushed to the edge with his dad’s harsh criticism of his wrestling methods. Allison, the basket case, is ignored by both of her parents. Bender, the criminal, suffers from the physical and mental abuse brought on by his old man.
Together they form new bonds and dig deeper into the complexities of each other’s lives. It’s a beautiful statement, one with timeless appeal. There will never be a point where we don’t need the reminder of knowing we are all human and struggling to make it through each day with peace of mind.
Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald spoke with Moviefone about why they believe The Breakfast Club obtained the legacy it has.
Ally Sheedy: I think it takes a group of five teenagers and very realistically puts their lives on the screen. They’re basically normal; anybody could relate to them, there’s nothing huge going on. But it’s that their experience at that time matters enough and is interesting enough to make a movie about without embellishing. And I think for a young person, seeing that, it’s like, Oh, that’s me up there and somebody cares about my story.
Molly Ringwald: And also, the issues that we’re dealing with haven’t really changed. I just noticed from watching my kids grow up, that political atmosphere of cliques at school, the bullying, the feeling that you don’t belong that everyone feels no matter who they are, those themes really still resonate today and probably always will.
Judd Nelson, who played John Bender, never broke character and picked on Molly Ringwald off camera. Ally Sheedy, who played Allison, added information on the other issue which nearly made John Hughes fire Judd.
“Judd kind of does this very free-ranging thing with his body. You can see it in the movie,” Sheedy said. “He’s not great at hitting marks, and he wanted to move around and stuff, and I think they were having trouble keeping him in shot.” But things were smoothed over after Ally and the other three cast members pleaded to Hughes to keep Judd in the film.“If I remember correctly, we all talked to him. The four of us. And I think my thing about it was just focus, just focus, just focus,” said Sheedy.
Pretty in Pink
Pretty in Pink, is the story of Andie (Molly Ringwald), a girl whose family lives on a lower income, is in extreme like with with Blane, the rich boy at school. She struggles to find her comfort in their growing relationship, as she’s too embarrassed to admit where she lives and the truth about her home life. Andie has always had one constant, and that’s her friend, Duckie, played by Jon Cryer. He’s in a bit of a bind when he finds out Andie and Blane have started dating. Duckie has always been in love with Andie, and now his worst nightmare–unrequited love–is happening. But he gains a bit of leverage when Blane allows peer pressure and their difference in status to break his and Andie’s relationship. What happens next with Andie is the ultimate flex of class and independence. An iconic moment in cinema, where a young woman uses her Cinderella moment to re-establish both her pride and self-love.
Everything about Pretty in Pink makes the story familiar. Granted, you may not have the exact hardships as Andie or Duckie at this moment in time, but you’ve been there in some way. And who could forget the fashion? Andie, Duckie and Iona created magic with their thrift shop threads.
Oh, and this lip-synch sequence below. It’s gold. Duckie slid into Iona’s record store with so much swag and comedy, and thus, became an unforgettable character for generations to come.
Molly Ringwald informed Moviefone she believes the character of Duckie struggled with his sexuality, but states it wasn’t explicitly verbalized due to John Hughes’ approach.
“Oh, definitely. John didn’t have the vocabulary for that. I’m convinced that in “Pretty in Pink” [Duckie] is gay, because that character was based on my best friend Matt who is gay, who was not out at that time but we had a very similar relationship. But that just wasn’t in his vocabulary.”
Anthony Michael Hall returned to Hughes’ sci-fi production to play Gary, the coolest nerd you’d ever meet. He was a few levels edgier than Sixteen Candles‘ Farmer Ted. Gary and his best friend Wyatt do the impossible when they create the anatomical woman of their dreams–via their computer–to be their girlfriend. And yes, like all of John Hughes’ teen films, there’s an epic house party and ensuing hilarity and drama.
Out of most of Hughes’ films, it’s probably one of the most light-hearted. It’s something you can relax to and really enjoy. There aren’t any dark and complex undertones, just the misadventures of two boys who desire to take life into their own hands.
Weird Science is also known for its introduction to a young Bill Paxton and Robert Downey Jr. Despite their minimal time on-screen, they’re just as mesmerizing as they are today in Hughes’ ’80s flick.
Anthony Michael Hall states his voice during his famous blues club scene was inspired by Richard Pryor.
“John and I would watch Richard Pryor movies on the weekend. And we would imitate this character called Mudball that Richard Pryor would do. And so it was really just a product of being Richard Pryor fans that John said, ‘Hey, why don’t we create this scene where you go into a bar and do that?’”
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Two words: Save Ferris!
Ferris Bueller is a kid that does everything each person wants to do–be it child, teen or adult–ditch their obligations for a long day of irresponsible leisure. Even better, Ferris can’t be caught. With this charisma, it’s no wonder the film’s title character has become the poster boy of carpe diem.
One of the most intriguing story lines of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is the contrast between Ferris and his best friend Cameron. And yes, it all roots down to that integral relationship of teen and parent.
While Ferris can do no wrong in his parents’ eyes, Cameron is desperate for his father to love him as much as he does his possessions. These two dynamics matter greatly to the plot, as Cameron works through out the film to overcome his anxiety, and Ferris aids him by pushing the boundaries he’s set for himself. After a day of breaking as many rules as possible, Cameron commits the ultimate offense and totals his father’s car. Ferris insists on taking the fall, after all, it was his idea to take it out. But Cameron sees it as both an opportunity to free himself and have the discussion he’s been waiting to have with his father.
“Ferris’s singing “Danke Schoen” in the shower was my idea, I think. Although it’s only because of the brilliance of John’s deciding that I should sing “Danke Schoen” on the float in the parade. I had never heard the song before. I was learning it for the parade scene. So we’re doing the shower scene and I thought, “Well, I can do a little rehearsal.” And I did something with my hair to make that Mohawk. And you know what good directors do: they say, “Stop! Wait till we roll.” And John put that stuff in.”– Matthew Broderick, Vanity Fair
The above films barely scratch the surface of how many treasures John Hughes left us. From Curly Sue, to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Uncle Buck, Say Anything, Some Kind of Wonderful, St. Elmo’s Fire, Home Alone and the ’90s teen film, Can’t Hardly Wait, we were graced with doses of his personality, charisma and genius.
Although he disappeared from Hollywood and moved back to Chicago, to live a low key private life before his death in 2009, his work has never gone out of demand. He had a brain that was quick and a heart that understood people of all ages and the hands to capture those emotions on ink and paper and the camera. It’s what he offered audiences and actors–a sort of cinematic therapy–that makes his life and legacy so special.
Hall: A lot happened to me last summer. My own father died on June 14. And then John. It connects to a thought I had about my father for years. It’s like, sometimes, people’s silence—their distance—is their gift to you, in a way. John, whatever his reasons were—none of us know, really. I only ever met my father once. But it was the same thing: why would he abandon all these people? I don’t know. Maybe I used it as some sort of psychological justification for not knowing him: someone’s absence is their gift to you.
Ringwald: I had just had my twins, on July 10. I think somebody sent me a text or something, and it said, “I’m so sorry about John Hughes.” Immediately, I Googled “John Hughes” and found out that he had died. I was kind of in shock. I’m still kind of in shock about it. I mean, I feel like I’ve made my peace with him, but [beginning to cry] … but it does made me really sad.
Broderick: When he died, I had a horrible feeling of a punch in the gut, even though I hadn’t seen him in so long. Because it was a large part of me, or my life, that was gone.
I saw John’s family at the funeral. My impression was not of somebody who withdrew from Hollywood or thought, “O.K., you don’t want me.” It wasn’t like an exile. It looked more like a very full life that he loved, a whole full second act that I didn’t know anything about—it’s the life that Ferris Bueller’s parents have, in a way. He had to sort of return to who he was, which was a guy from a well-to-do suburban neighborhood in Chicago.