The man that is in no small part responsible for my formative years and the person I have become as an adult has left us.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. –
Earlier today John Hughes died. The man who either wrote, produced or directed (often all three) the scope of my teenage experience, the man who captured on film the very heart and soul of ‘who we were when’ is gone. And even though he hasn’t directed a movie since 1991, I feel his passing very deeply, and I am beyond sad.
Those of us who were teenagers in the 1980s are forever imprinted with his work. To this day if I refer to an old crush, I am likely to say “He was my Jake Ryan of the moment.” that Sixteen Candles icon of male perfection. (With the slight exception of loaning out his passed-out-drunk girlfriend as a sex toy to someone she’d never met, and by the way EWW!, but still…the cake and the kiss made us forgive him that slight foible. The Porsche and the brooding good looks didn’t hurt his case either.)
If my friends and I go to a sushi restaurant, inevitably someone will say “You won’t accept a guy’s tongue in your mouth, but you’re going to eat that?”, quoting the irreverent John Bender from The Breakfast Club as played with nostril-flaring precision by Judd Nelson.
“What about prom, Blaine?” is the classic Pretty in Pink response to anyone blowing off plans last minute, and extra points if you nail Molly Ringwald’s teeth clenching, locker banging, girl power voice.
Music, fashion, and pop culture after 1984 were defined in large part by his oeuvre, and my generation still connects on very basic levels to his stories. I own all of his classics on DVD, and if I am having a bad day, nothing perks me up as quickly as popping one in and visiting with old friends. From the holy trinity of the Brat Pack SC/PIP/TBC, to quieter gems like Some Kind Of Wonderful or classic knee slappers like Weird Science, John Hughes just got us. He knew what it meant to be an outsider, and the price you pay to be an insider. He knew about unrequited love that threatens to tear you apart from the inside, and that requited love isn’t necessarily all it is cracked up to be either at that age. He knew our secret souls and dreams and guilty pleasures, and he didn’t slick them up or package them to feed to us.
In a time when the culture of television and movies aimed at teenagers seems to be entirely about telling them who they are supposed to want to be instead of reflecting who they actually are, his voice, his keen eye, and his honest and respectful characterizations are much missed. Where are the teenagers today on film who have the same diversity of look as did our Molly, Ally, Anthony, Judd, Eric, Mary Stuart, Lea et al? Maybe I am showing my age, but if you lined up all the current teeny-bopper starlets I wouldn’t begin to be able to tell them apart, they are an endless blur of flat-ironed extensions, size zero skinny jeans, and gladiator sandals. Where are the supporting characters that are more than just background furniture? Where is a Joan Cusack struggling with her back brace, or an Elias Koteas carving a “picture of what my girlfriend would look like without skin” into the top of a detention desk? The rare piece like Juno is the exception that proves the rule, and a surprise sleeper hit. But movies like that were John Hughes bread and butter, and in their day, they were big releases and blockbuster hits.
When a girlfriend was getting ready to marry a gentleman of British descent, we abducted him for a weekend and made him watch Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in one day, none of which he had ever seen. When we finished he said simply about his fiancée “I feel like I finally really know you completely.” Which had been the entire point. You can’t know us completely without those road maps, without the Cliff’s Notes that John Hughes provided.
For those of us who live in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs where Hughes set his movies, the loss is even more poignant. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was as much a love letter to the city we inhabit as it was a clarion call to people to wake up and smell the Chagall.
Hughes’ work would never receive awards. And yet, if you ask almost anyone who actually came of age during the time of his coming of age films, he is the most influential film writer and director of our lives.
We are now all either in our late thirties or early forties. We have married and divorced. We have had children and lost parents. We have attended 20 Year Reunions at the high schools he had such a razor eye for capturing. We have built careers, advanced science and medicine and law. And yet, at the very core of our beings, each one of us is still “a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal”.
And each one of us owes something essential to John Hughes.
Life moves pretty fast, indeed.
From the bottom of my heart John, I wish you Godspeed, with the thanks of a generation. And to his family and friends, you are not alone in your grief. We are out here. And our prayers and thoughts are with you.