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Hughes Your Daddy

Since I haven’t been updating this site, well, at all in the past couple of months (I’ve been busy, I think?), I’ve decided to change the format just a little bit.  While I’ll still continue to write essays about my favorite movies, it makes more sense to add additional content about the films I’m watching right now.  I’ll keep these blurbs short(ish) and to-the-point–basic summary, what I liked, what I didn’t like, etc.

Anyway, this week I’m going to be keeping the focus pretty narrow, but as usual, I wrote way way way too much.  This is not short.  Hopefully it‘s kind of to the point.

I decided over the past two weeks or so to take a quick journey back to my high-school days by revisiting some John Hughes movies.  With his death nearly a year ago and the enormous tribute to him at the Oscars (so it was a bit over the top…big deal), I got to thinking about the man who defined teenage cinema.  Was he really all that great of a filmmaker?  Some critics seem to scorn the guy.  James Berardinelli, one of my favorite online critics, mentioned after the Oscars that “[i]n the grand scheme of things, Hughes was just an average director who made a few nice little films.”  He then bemoaned the fact that the tribute to dead actors, filmmakers, etc. didn’t mention Eric Rohmer.

I think that’s utter bullshit.  People, especially so-called film snobs (I‘m not smart enough to be one), don’t seem to get John Hughes, or what his films mean to people of a certain age.  Sure, he’s not Eric fucking Rohmer, and no he didn’t direct Claire’s fucking Knee.  Don’t get me wrong–Rohmer’s a genius, and I love several of his films (I’m too dumb to understand the rest).  The fact that he wasn’t mentioned just goes to show why the Academy Awards are a complete waste of time, too.  However, to Americans, and especially those who grew up after 1983, John Hughes was a hero, a significant figure in American cinema who really tried to understand how kids spoke, acted in their everyday milieus and reacted to authority figures.  You’d be hard-pressed to find many directors who have a better ear for teenage dialogue.

In my book, he‘s much more than a run-of-the-mill filmmaker.  Hughes gets kids, and he gets the details of high school–from the tunes to the fashion to the sex tests to the bad lunch–exactly right in almost all of his movies.  That’s more than one can say for many other directors who try to make movies about teenagers.  His characters are funny, quirky, insecure, and inexperienced in sex and love.  His films are insanely quotable:

“Don’t mess with the bull, young man.  You’ll get the horns.”

“Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

“No more yankie my wankie.  The Donger need food!”

So Hughes is just an average director, an unimportant filmmaker and screenwriter?  Sure, maybe to the cynics.  But now think about the last time you heard someone quoting My Night At Maud’s.  That’s right–fucking never.  I rest my case.

Anyway, I watched three J.H. pics in the last weeks.  Here are my thoughts on each:

The Breakfast Club (1985)

I thought I’d lost my shit after I said it.  Did that really just come out of my mouth, I pondered.  “Nah, dude, I mean The Breakfast Club was cool when you were like, fifteen, but now that shit’s kinda lame,” I blurted to a few friends after a few beers a few nights ago.

“Are you joking?” my buddy asked.

“I haven’t watched it in awhile, but I’m fairly certain I’m right.”

But, just to make sure, I broke out the ol’ VCR and threw in my VHS copy of The Breakfast Club, certain I’d be bored within a few minutes.

What the hell was I thinking?

The nostalgia of watching The Breakfast Club was terrifying.  I remembered almost immediately the times I’d spent watching that movie–with my friends in the basement before we could drink beer, after football games, curled up in a blanket on days off from school with the snow piled to high to even go sledding.  It hit me that this film really used to mean something to me, that the dialogue was so spot-on I felt like, if I were more observant, I could‘ve penned the script.  The pic wasn’t phony, and it reminded me of how little teenagers had changed between 1985 and 2005 (when I graduated from high school).

The premise, if you aren’t familiar with the film (who isn‘t?), is simple: five kids, all from completely different backgrounds and social groups (the prom-queen, the geek, the criminal, the jock, the basket-case), are stuck in a day-long Saturday detention with principal Richard Vernon (“Excuse me, Dick? Will milk be made available to us?”) , played by Paul Gleason, and asked to write an essay detailing “who they think they are.”

The plot is, of course, utterly meaningless.  What’s important is how Hughes writes stuff that, when it leaves the characters mouths, sounds genuine, troubled, confused, hilarious.  He lets his characters work through their problems by talking to one another, constantly prodding each other and digging deeper and deeper.  In one shot, one of the best in the movie, the five sit in a circle after smoking a joint, and the camera travels around outside their little circle.  Sometimes the camera goes behind a support or a bookshelf so we see none of the characters, but we continue to hear the conversation.  The technique continues for a couple of minutes, as the geek, played by Anthony Michael Hall, talks about failing shop and the jock, played by Emilio Estevez, discusses his father‘s brutally unrealistic expectations.  It’s extremely memorable and, might I add, very touching.

Yet The Breakfast Club might have been completely forgettable had Hughes not assembled a crackerjack cast.  In fact, without Molly Ringwald (the prom-queen Claire) and Judd Nelson, as John Bender the pot-smoking, Ozzy-listening badass, the film wouldn’t be half as good.  Of course, it is Nelson who gives the film some kind of center, the one who forces all of the characters to open up to one another and talk about how they ended up in detention, why they hate their parents, and if they’ll all still be friends when the first bell rings on Monday morning.

The opening scenes of The Breakfast Club are spectacular, filled with wit and humor.  When Bender and principal Dick Vernon face off, we can’t stop laughing.  Since the first half-hour of the film is pretty much the Judd Nelson show, it’s the best part, with his character degrading everyone until they all break down and actually begin to speak to (and perhaps care about) one another.

Nelson has never had and likely never again will have a part this good.  He embodies this role with such fury and humor that it’s almost shocking to watch.  In high school, I sort of knew guys who talked like John Bender–they were the kids who sat on the periphery, causing trouble and pretending to have fun.  They were funny, constantly fucking up, and almost always extremely angry.  They came from bad families (mostly), smoked pot and cigarettes, drank, and had sex before anybody else.  John Hughes wrote Bender’s part perfectly, showing that, underneath the bravado and bad language, there was a troubled, pissed-off high school kid who probably wouldn’t amount to anything.  And that scared the bejesus out of him, though he wouldn‘t let it show.  In fact, one of the only times you see Vernon really get to Bender is when he says to the others, rather cruelly and sarcastically, “You wanna see something funny?  You go see John Bender in five years.  You’ll see how goddamn funny he is.” Later, he looks almost as terrified when Vernon takes him into a back room and tells him to “take the first shot.”  And watch as Nelson’s face conveys a message–one that he’s questioning himself, one that almost says “I can’t beat the system.”

Judd Nelson gives the strongest performance in the film, nearly matched by Ringwald as the preppy, snooty prom-queen.  Her early dialogue vibrates with fake enthusiasm that conceals her obvious insecurity.  The scenes where Bender challenges her values are among the best in the film.  Emilio Estevez, Hall, and Ally Sheedy are all very good, as well, though Sheedy’s character is pretty one-dimensional (she hardly speaks until the last reel) and Hall was much funnier (and, I’d argue, more interesting) as The Geek in Sixteen Candles.

Every scene with Paul Gleason, most notably two where he and Bender play games of one-upmanship, is extraordinary.  Though many critics complain that Hughes can’t write dialogue for adults the way he can for kids, I beg to differ.  The authority figures in The Breakfast Club, especially the Gleason’s principal, are mostly well-drawn.  Anyone who thinks that Gleason is “one-dimensional” hasn’t ever spent time inside their assistant principal’s office getting detention or in-school suspension, plain and simple.

The only unfortunate thing about the pic is that it loses its way in the last twenty minutes.  But a bad ending, even for a teen flick, is very problematic.  I think this is what was responsible for my earlier assertion that The Breakfast Club was only cool when you were fifteen and sucked thereafter.  The ending, in which the kids dance around the library and talk cute and give each other makeovers, is extraordinarily boring.  When I was fifteen, I loved this shit.  When I was nineteen, I remember thinking it was corny.  Now, uhm, it’s really fucking lame.

The conclusion’s all the more depressing because Hughes gave up on his characters, kids who had so many interesting things to say about each other and about their parents during most of the film.  Did he think we’d get bored listening to their conversations come to a legitimate and truthful end-point?  I guess so.  In such an intelligent movie, the ending seems a ploy, like some boilerplate ‘80s-teen shit thrown in at the end to hold the audience’s attention.  And don’t even get me started on the “romances” that blossom in the final frames.  What a crock–why couldn’t he just let things go at tentative friendship?

But, never mind that.  The Breakfast Club is still a seminal teen picture, a snapshot of kids as they were in high school, before they grew up and, as one character remarks, lost their souls.  It reminds me of being in high school, and reminds me that there’s at least one man out there, dead too soon, that actually had teenager‘s speech patterns down to a science.  He understood our myriad issues better than any guidance counselor, and I think most of my friend would agree.

The Breakfast Club is not a great movie, but it is a very good one, and an exceptionally smart one in stretches.  The fact that I ever doubted this movie was good, for even one second, is totally insane.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

Now I’m gonna switch gears (no pun intended, ho ho) and talk about a Hughes movie that is completely uncommon–mostly because it’s about adults.  Again, there are detractors out there that say Hughes can‘t make his grown-up characters three-dimensional, and this movie pretty much tells those critics to take their gripes and stick ‘em.  It’s really a brilliant piece of work.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles is a great movie, period.  It’s superior to The Breakfast Club, though comparing them is, I guess, akin to comparing monkeys and cantaloupe.  PT&A starts with the title letters rushing across a screen and opens into a dull business meeting in which Neal Page (Steve Martin) and several other businesspeople are being held hostage by some big-wig looking at magazine advertisements.

Neal Page is your standard upper-middle class suburbanite.  He has a doting wife, three kids, lives in a $500,000 house near Chicago, travels too much and measures his success by how many grey suits and expensive automobiles he owns.  He is self-confident, clean-shaven and utterly dull–or so we think in the opening scenes when his biggest problem is that he forgot his leather gloves in some other executive‘s office.  All we know about him at first is that he desperately needs to catch a plane to get home for Thanksgiving.

The first memorable scene in PT&A comes when Martin races Kevin Bacon (giving his typical smarmy grin across Park Ave.) for a cab, losing out after he trips over an enormous trunk.  Seconds later, as he creatively hails another cab, someone steals it right out from under him.  This man is Del Griffith (John Candy), and it won’t be the last Neal sees of him.  In fact, as they both board a delayed flight for Chicago and get re-routed to Wichita, they will not be able to shake each other for the duration of the film.  Fate has tied them together.

As was the case with The Breakfast Club, a movie like this depends on an absolutely perfect cast.  And Hughes, by casting Martin as the self-centered businessman who lives off his credit-cards and his shoeshine, and Candy, as an overweight, unkempt, chain-smoking shower curtain ring salesman, put together a new variation of the Odd Couple.

At first, Neal is repelled by Del, but we ask ourselves, who wouldn’t be?  When they end up in Wichita, Del has connections to get them a room in a cheap motel.  At 3 AM, they’re driven around the city endlessly in a taxi cab and forced to sleep together in a single bed.  Del wants only to please, but continues to screw up.  When he says he had no idea that leaving a six-pack of beer on a vibrating bed would make them explode, Candy plays it off in such a way that you actually believe the idea hadn’t crossed his mind.

The following scene, which lasts just a couple of minutes, is the absolute perfect pairing of both actors’ talents.  Martin, who has the ability to make certain contortions with his face when he’s pissed off, tells Candy that his jokes stink and his stories are pointless.  At one point, he comments that he’d rather sit through 1000 insurance seminars than hold another five minute conversation with his companion.

What Martin does is brilliant, scrunching his face, crinkling his nose, and lowering his voice so that, even as he says these incredibly mean things, we’re still laughing…but only sort of.  Candy’s acting here is even better, though, because Hughes chooses to shoot Del Griffith’s face as Neal degrades him.  We see him look angry for a moment, but then his face starts to fall, and he looks like a man who’s been beaten by the world time and time again.  This is the saddest we ever see Candy look, and many argue that in this particular scene, he’s really playing himself, even as he says (almost whimpers) “I like me.”

The next sequence is the second funniest moment in the film, but it truly has to be seen to be believed.  I will only hint at it, though with a couple of clues: Del and Neal spent the night together in a single bed.  And the phrase “THOSE AREN’T PILLOWS!” is uttered at a high volume.

The movie continues as a kind of buddy/road comedy where, through countless journeys gone wrong, Del and Neal become closer, and Neal begins to show perhaps not respect, but at least compassion for his traveling partner.  Every time Neal tries to shove Del aside to get by on his own, he finds he cannot–as I said, fate has linked them.  For instance, when Neal tries in absolute desperation to hail a cab from St. Louis to Chicago, and gets in an altercation with the cab stand attendant, things escalate to the point where Neal is knocked down on the pavement watching a speeding car barreling at his head.  We know who will be behind the wheel, and we’ll laugh-out-loud watching the attendant “help” Neal up from the ground.

When both men are together, Del is one step ahead of Neal.  While Neal calls home to tell his wife a plane’s been delayed, Del calls his friend who owns a motel.  When the men have “car trouble,“ Del calls a friend to get them a ride.  But Del, who’s half-broke, needs Neal to pick up the tab, so it gets to the point where they can’t make it without one another.  And as each disaster ensues, Del has something hilarious to say about the situation.  A wonderful example:

We’d have more luck playing pickup sticks with our butt-cheeks than we will getting a flight out of here before daybreak.

The funniest scene in the whole movie comes just before the previous one and is clearly responsible for its R-rating.  Neal, who is recently free of Del, attempts to rent a car to get back to Chicago.  So the preppy businessman catches a ride from the airport to a rental car lot three miles away where–alas–his car is not there.  Stranded, he walks across several stretches of highway and over a runway (it’s a very cool shot, by the way) to reclaim his dignity at the rental company’s customer service counter.

The lady at the counter, who is bantering about marshmallows and turkeys with a relative over the telephone, is cheery as hell, which of course infuriates Neal even more.  (Most will recognize her as Rooney’s secretary from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, another Hughes masterpiece.)  And Neal unleashes on her, all his pent-up anger gushing to the surface, in what is one of the funniest things Martin has ever done:

Car Rental Agent: Welcome to Marathon, may I help you?
Neal: Yes.
Car Rental Agent: How may I help you?
Neal: You can start by wiping that fucking dumb-ass smile off your rosey, fucking, cheeks! And you can give me a fucking automobile: a fucking Datsun, a fucking Toyota, a fucking Mustang, a fucking Buick! Four fucking wheels and a seat!
Car Rental Agent: I really don’t care for the way you’re speaking to me.
Neal: And I really don’t care for the way your company left me in the middle of fucking nowhere with fucking keys to a fucking car that isn’t fucking there. And I really didn’t care to fucking walk, down a fucking highway, and across a fucking runway to get back here to have you smile in my fucking face. I want a fucking car RIGHT FUCKING NOW!
Car Rental Agent: May I see your rental agreement?
Neal: I threw it away.
Car Rental Agent: Oh boy.
Neal: Oh boy, what?

I’ll leave the last line of dialogue out because I think it’s one of the funniest comebacks in cinema since Osgood Fielding uttered the immortal final words in Some Like It Hot.

(Incidentally, I first watched PT&A with my dad a couple of days before Thanksgiving when I was about ten, and he couldn’t remember why in God’s name it was rated R.  When we got to that part, he sort of smirked as I watched in delight.)

As you can imagine, the movie continues onward with Del and Neal finding themselves in bigger and bigger predicaments until finally they’re down to their last pennies, driving a burned-up Ford through a snowstorm desperately seeking shelter.

If there are funny moments toward the end of the picture (as when Del and Neal almost get killed on an interstate highway), the best parts are where both men share insight about their lives, their jobs and their wives.  Hughes scripts one dialogue so that, even if it is slightly corny, it manages to be extremely touching.  What’s more, Martin and Candy play these parts so convincingly that we’re won over more quickly than we‘d expect.  Martin, who toned down his usual manic spirit, is excellent in these parts, and Candy, who generally (and unfortunately) took roles that weren’t equal to his talent, shines in the final scenes.

Obviously, both men will make it back to Chicago through some creative mode of transportation, but there is a brilliant, heartbreaking twist that leads to a well-deserved, uplifting finale.  And one of the final shots of Del and Neal carrying that huge trunk–the massive piece of luggage that seems to symbolize all the hell they’ve been through together–down the center of a road is like nothing I‘ve ever seen.

As Roger Ebert notes, there are only a handful of films each year that have incredibly memorable scenes, those that endure for years or even decades.  I, like Mr. Ebert, immediately think of the Chicken Salad sequence in Five Easy Pieces; Cameron Diaz wiping Ben Stiller’s unborn children on her hair in There’s Something About Mary, and the final moments in The Graduate also come quickly to mind, as well.  Ebert also mentions that PT&A contains several of such scenes.  I agree.  From the opening cab-race, to the scene at the airport rental car counter, there are a host of moments that stick out in our minds years after we’ve watched the film.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles is not my favorite John Hughes movie (I’d rate it a close-second), but I think that it is likely his best-made one.  The comedic scenes are inter-cut so seamlessly with the dramatic parts that I feel like this shit could‘ve actually happened to my dad, a one-time (more understanding) marketing exec.  There are absolutely no other actors who could have effectively played these parts, and Candy’s portrayal of Del Griffith really should have garnered him an Oscar nomination at the very least.  I watch this film with my dad almost annually around Thanksgiving and am charmed by it each and every time.

Sixteen Candles (1984)

Right off the bat, I’ll say it:  Sixteen Candles is my absolute favorite John Hughes movie.  While I don’t think it’s technically as flawless as Planes, Trains & Automobiles, I guess I have a certain connection to the picture.  I have ever since my ex-girlfriend bought my a copy when I was just about to turn sixteen.  Minute for minute, it has the most laughs out of any Hughes pic out there.

I suppose you can’t really “discuss” Sixteen Candles the way you can talk about an adult picture like PT&A (I mean, look how much I freaking wrote about that flick), but you can easily praise its best elements.  Like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles handles teenage awkwardness with delicacy and charm.  Its characters sound like real teenagers and, as with most of his films, remind us how little sixteen year olds have changed in the past decades.  We’re all part-nerd, part-asshole, part-criminal, part-basket case when we’re braving the halls of our respective high schools.

Sixteen Candles takes place over the course of two days where Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) is feeling like a complete parasite.  Her parents and relatives have forgotten her birthday, her sister’s getting married to an “oily bohunk” (an absolutely hilarious stereotype…he‘s played by the same guy who played the janitor in The Breakfast Club), her grandmother tells her that “she’s getting her boobies,” and a geek (Anthony Michael Hall) isn‘t shy about the fact that he wants her body.  Plus, she’s in love with a guy, Jake Ryan (Michael Shoeffeling) who doesn’t know she exists and an exchange student, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Wattanabe), has stolen her room for the next couple of days.

I think that Hughes, when he made this picture, decided to take a bunch of totally mismatched people, put them in a few broadly sketched scenarios together, and let them talk.  It‘s surprisingly easy to handle these situations badly, but Sixteen Candles has a ring of truth to it, even in the strangest, most far-out moments.  Just when we think Hughes is going to take a cornball approach to one scene or another, he surprises us by staying genuine.

Consider the best scene in the pic when the Geek, a sex-obsessed nerdlinger, encounters Samantha sitting in the front seat of a half-built car in their high school’s auto-shop.  Besides choosing a unique setting, Hughes simply lets his teens discuss their insecurities about the opposite sex and about how each of them feels like kind of an outcast in one way or another.  It’s very nicely handled, and shows that two seemingly different people can find some common ground on which to bond.  And it’s great that Hughes demonstrates that teenagers, while they think and talk about sex almost constantly, hold it quite sacred, and are usually afraid of it (at least when it comes to the first time).

Besides some very well-played tender moments, though, Sixteen Candles is a screwball comedy of the highest order.  Samantha has, from what I can tell, a family from hell (to a 16-year old at least): her sister is self-centered and bitchy, her younger brother is a complete asshole, and her grandparents are mostly interested in embarrassing her.  Her mom and dad, the sane ones in the family, are firmly middle-class and aloof (as many of Hughes’ parent characters are, though these ones seem to have something resembling hearts).  I guess that makes them like pretty much every other middle-class American family.

But the funniest scenes in the movie generally involve the Geek, who as played by Hall, is actually more interesting, and a whole lot goofier than his character in The Breakfast Club, or the Donger, who manages to play the role straight enough as to avoid being a typical “stranger from a strange land” stereotype.

The epically drawn-out party scene at Jake Ryan’s house is perhaps one of the best examples of American comedy from the 1980s.  After coming from a dance, the Donger manages to pick up a girl and together, instead of just mingling or getting drunk, they go up to the attic and begin lifting weights and riding on exercise bikes.  Or, think about when the Geek knocks over a huge pyramid of beer cans and he and his friends successively pass the blame to the next nerd.  And then there’s the scene where the Geek drives Jake Ryan’s blacked-out girlfriend home in Jake’s father’s Rolls Royce at the ripe age of 15:

The Geek: This, uh, this your car, Jake?
Jake: No, this is my dad’s car. You said you couldn’t drive a stick.
The Geek: This is a motherfu – ! This is a Rolls Royce, Jake.
Jake: So?
The Geek: SO? So? I hear the grill ALONE costs five grand on this. Five grand! You have five grand? I don’t have five grand!
Jake: Then don’t hit anything.
The Geek: Ha ha! Don’t hit anything

On paper, these scenes seem like they could be out of any dogshit teen comedy.  While the writing in Hughes’ films is always a strong-suit (the conversation between Jake and the Geek leading up to the Rolls Royce adventure is heartfelt and absolutely hysterical), as usual it’s his choice of actors that works.  They elevate many scenes, seemingly contrived, into something really special.  Anthony Michael Hall, who scared the shit out of me when he played Winona Ryder’s asshole boyfriend in Edward Scissorhands, has a certain charm that makes you certain, if you knew a kid like him in high school, he’d be one of the most well-liked kids in your entire class.  Gedde Watanabe on the other hand isn’t just playing a stereotypical jerk–there aren’t any serious pot-shots against Asian culture, minus the accent and the constant gong sound when his name‘s mentioned.  In fact, his behavior somewhat resembles that of white kids I knew, kids who would do the strangest things at parties and get the biggest laughs because they didn’t fear looking silly.

Beyond that, Hughes’ restraint comes through in some of these scenes.  For instance, he doesn’t let a gag between several characters play out for too long before switching to another hilarious encounter.  Nothing in Sixteen Candles ever gets tired because we’re on sensory overload, and for the most part, always giggling, anticipating the ridiculous antics that‘ll pop up next.  What we get, then, is a feeling like we’re actually at a high-school party, roaming around our rich buddy‘s mansion, watching people interact in the way they do when they’re getting drunk for maybe the fifth or sixth time ever.  Obviously things are going to get a little bit out of hand.

The end of the film, while it doesn’t completely capitalize on the promise of the school dance and party scenes, is still good.  It’s no surprise that Sam’s sister’s wedding will be a complete disaster (after she takes too many muscle relaxants), and it’s clear from frame one that Sam and Jake will finally end up together.  The ending is a little too perfunctory, but I assume that Hughes meant for it to end with the big kiss which is, again, restrained and “cute” more than it is sexy or earth-shattering.  And the ending scenes with the Donger are, unsurprisingly, absolutely over-the-top.

What Hughes also gets right is the process of maturation, represented mostly through Jake Ryan’s character.  Jake, whose significant other is a train wreck party girl in a perfect-ten body, sees that she is really only interested in partying, and he, unlike many movie jocks, is actually interested in serious romance.  The scenes where Jake actually gets to speak (he seems to have very little dialogue, I noticed) are well-handled, especially the one between the Geek and him.  Hughes shows, as usual, that the older we get, perhaps the less mature we are, and that, even if Sam is only sixteen, she’s a whole lot more interesting than a bombshell senior whose chief bragging rights amount to her tits and the fact that she can “name 20 guys who would have me right now.”

While Hughes has always gotten the little details right in his movies (music, phrases (“sounds major”), clothing), he knows his strength comes with casting the right actors in given roles, and giving them intelligent things to say.  While the joke scenes in Sixteen Candles never last long, the scenes between teens where they talk seriously (and often humorously) stick around a little longer.  He seems to be giving us time to think back to our high school years and recognize the dialogue.  Most of the time, we’re saying “yes, that’s exactly how that happened.”  In fact, Hughes best writing is so spot on it reminds us in many ways of Richard Linklater‘s, the guy who made two people talking for an entire movie (Before Sunrise) and teenage angst in the dull, post-Vietnam 1970s (Dazed and Confused) actually engaging.

While I’m sure Sixteen Candles has a few shortcomings, I’ve always overlooked them.  It’s Hughes’ funniest movie, and I truly like all of the characters, from Samantha and Jake Ryan to the smaller supporting gigs by Sam’s crazy grandparents and Long Duk Dong.  Since critics are always complaining that they often don’t “care” about a given film’s characters, Hughes seems to have provided an antidote with this 1984 gem.

We all know how awkward teenagers are and how absolutely terrified many of them are of everything, from authority figures, popularity, their futures and sex.  We all know we all wanted to grow up faster when we were sixteen, and now realize those were some of the best years of our lives and we‘d get in Doc Brown’s DeLorean and travel back there if we could, obviously armed with the knowledge we have presently.  In every teen movie he made, Hughes shows truths of human personality wittily and poignantly.  In PT&A, Hughes gives us complicated but unsatisfied adults, those who are trying desperately to talk as freely and as truthfully as the kids in The Breakfast Club (and for a long time, failing).  I guess its an overstatement to say our souls die when get older, but at sixteen, I sure as shit thought John Hughes was totally right.  I just hope I don’t lose my soul and start thinking of this director as “just average.”

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