The John Hughes Re-Education

Each month this year I’ve chosen a director to re-examine. Pre-blog January was my Quentin Tarantino month. February was Kevin Smith and March was James Cameron. Coming off of my exhausting James Cameron month, I wanted something a little safer. I wanted to watch the work of a director who knew how to tell a story properly in an appropriate amount of time.

There were some gaps in John Hughes’ filmography that I wanted to get to, so I chose him. Considering how prolific a filmmaker as John Hughes was, it was tempting to watch a bunch of movies he wrote and produced in addition to the ones he directed. But, in the interest of time, I chose to just stick with what he directed. What follows is my re-education of the work of John Hughes.

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Sixteen Candles (1984)Buy it on Amazon

Samantha Baker pines after Jake Ryan while her family forgets about her sixteenth birthday.

I hadn’t seen Sixteen Candles in a long time and, yes, it is still hilarious and heartfelt. This chronicle of teen angst and humility is the directorial debut of John Hughes. It’s a little abrasive and slightly dark at times. But it holds up very well and stands as a time capsule for 80s high school life.

Molly Ringwald perfectly embodies teen angst in a really good, witty script. Anthony Michael Hall plays The Geek fantastically. He toes the line into unforgivably annoying a few times but he never actually crosses it.

For the most part, Sixteen Candles ages surprisingly well. Some parts of the movie are a little dated, however, and the movie even ventures into some dark territory. It’s a sign of the times, I imagine, that people casually refer to Long Duk Dong as a “China man.”

The movie gets a little dark when, after a party, Jake Ryan offers his drunk girlfriend and car to The Geek in exchange for information on how to find Samantha. Jake goes so far as to tell The Geek “she’s so drunk, she’ll think you’re me.” It seemed a little strange to me. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie, though.

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The Breakfast Club (1985)Buy it on Amazon

The Breakfast Club is one of my favorite movies. In my eyes it’s perfect. It was released a year before I was born and still managed to resonate with me when I was in high school.

John Hughes takes the teen angst he so deftly depicted in Sixteen Candles and drops the slapstick, goofy comedy in favor of a more dramatic and personal story. Everyone knows the story. Five teens, forced to spend an entire Saturday in detention, wrestle with each other (both figuratively and literally) and their own demons while re-examining their social status and dissolving the Shermer High School hierarchy.

It’s a great script. It’s poignant, funny and relatable to pretty much anyone who attended a public high school. A “bottle movie” of sorts with a main cast of five teenagers, one teacher and one janitor, The Breakfast Club has no weak links. I mean it. For a movie with a predominantly young cast, everyone is on the top of their game in roles that have become iconic.

With The Breakfast Club, John Hughes created something that has stood (and will continue to stand) the test of time and relevancy. I fully expect high school students today and teenagers in generations to come will appreciate this movie for treating their plight without condescension.

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Weird Science (1985)Buy it on Amazon

This was my first time seeing Weird Science and, honestly, I wasn’t too crazy about it. Maybe it was due to watching the movie so soon after a viewing of a “pedestal movie” such as The Breakfast Club; I’m not sure. Either way, I didn’t have as enjoyable of a time watching it as I expected or hoped to.

Coming off of two strong performances in The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, I was looking forward to seeing Anthony Michael Hall in another John Hughes movie. And the “nerds create a supermodel girlfriend” plot sounded hilarious. I should have loved this movie.

But I didn’t. I thought it was fine. Hell, I’d go so far as to say I liked it. I was just disappointed. I’m not sure why, exactly. It’s possible that I found it to be too dated for my tastes. Although, I don’t think that’s the case since I was actually quite pleased with the special effects.

It was good seeing Hughes tackle something as “out there” as what’s depicted in the movie. But the inclusion of a Mad Max-style ‘80s biker gang was a pretty big turn off for me. I feel like that was capitalizing on the popularity of the Mad Max franchise while managing to severely date the movie.

Anthony Michael Hall was also a bit of a disappointment. The first night that the guys have out with “Lisa” includes a stop at a jazz club where the boys get drunk. Anthony Michael Hall’s drunken imitation of the jazz guys quickly goes from funny to annoying after a few minutes that feel like an eternity. It’s a little cringe worthy as well.

I’m curious about what the supposed remake that’s in the works will be like. I think it’s a good enough premise that deserves another shot.

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)Buy it on Amazon

Who doesn’t love Ferris Bueller?! This movie is a close second for the spot of “favorite John Hughes directed movie” after The Breakfast Club. I’ve loved this movie since high school. When there were rumors of a sequel (spurred by a Super Bowl commercial), I was floored. Against my better judgment, that is.

What struck me about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off this time around was how much of a dick Ferris is to Cameron. It’s interesting to see how much of a pusher he is in the beginning of the movie. By the end of the movie, it’s justified, somewhat. It was a bit selfish to take the car, but Cameron is so tightly wound that it is acceptable that Ferris pushed him to enjoy life, even with it’s consequences.

Matthew Broderick is, of course, in top form in this movie. I can’t possibly imagine anyone playing Ferris so perfectly. Even though he is a dick to Cameron, he’s such a likeable guy, that you forgive him.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a great movie that holds up spectacularly well.

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Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)Buy it on Amazon

I saw this movie for the first time a few years ago and loved it. My second viewing made me miss John Candy. He and Steve Martin played off each other so well.

It’s a classic story. An odd couple of travelers try to make it to their destination without killing each other. It’s a formula that’s been repeated many times. Most recently Todd Phillips tried to recreate with 2010’s Due Date but fell short of Hughes’ magic.

The charm of Planes, Trains and Automobiles is in its lead actors. John Candy is lovable in his annoyance and seeing Steve Martin react to everything is fantastic. Martin finds a great middle ground between being angry and being tolerant. He plays the part to perfection while Robert Downey Jr.’s counterpart in Due Date is more mean spirited.

There’s a surprising amount of heart in the last act of the movie that is surprising. John Candy’s acting tugs at my heartstrings and makes me wish he were still around.

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She’s Having a Baby (1988)Buy it on Amazon

I didn’t know much about She’s Having a Baby going into it. I assumed from the title that it was about a young couple having struggling through a surprise pregnancy. That’s not the case. The movie is a more serious take on a young couple’s struggles through the early years of their marriage.

Kevin Bacon stars as Jake Briggs and the movie follows his perspective, for the most part. He’s married to Kristy (Elizabeth McGovern) and together they ride the storm of their relationship. The movie often cuts away to Jake’s fantasies that give a window to the stress he’s under. For the most part, these are effective scenes. However, there’s a fantasy musical number with a neighborhood of people with lawn mowers that seems really out of place.

Alec Baldwin play Jake’s best friend Davis and is a source of drama for the couple. There’s a scene between Baldwin and McGovern that is very well done. In the scene Davis propositions Kristy. The result is the best scene of the movie. It made me wish the movie were more about his adoration for Kristy and the strain it causes his relationship with both of them. Alas, that drama is reserved pretty much for that one scene.

She’s Having a Baby was an interesting viewing for me. It started on a confusing foot by not being the movie I expected it to be. Seriously, the juxtaposition between the title and the plot of She’s Having a Baby is like if Home Alone was an hour and 22 minutes of the McAlister family getting ready for their trip and 15 minutes of Kevin being home alone.

I can’t disown the movie based on mismanaged expectations, though. And I won’t. I genuinely enjoyed the movie for what it is, a relationship comedy-drama that isn’t terribly memorable. It’s still worth a viewing, though.

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Uncle Buck (1989)Buy it on Amazon

John Hughes got another very good performance out of John Candy with Uncle Buck. The movie’s about a disheveled man who agrees to watch his brother’s kids for a few days. It features Macaulay Culkin in a performance that led Hughes to write the lead in Home Alone specifically for the child actor.

For a John Candy vehicle about a ne’er do well slob, it’s the children who take a commanding role in the movie. It shouldn’t surprise me, though, John Hughes was particularly adept at writing for and directing young actors. It’s no different here.

In fact, the movie combines Hughes’ two biggest strengths as a filmmaker. It takes his aforementioned affinity for child actors and pairs it with his talent for writing childlike adult characters. The end result is a fun personal growth story that, like Planes, Trains and Automobiles before it, makes me appreciate the work of John Candy.

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Curly Sue (1991)Buy it on Amazon

Yikes. John Hughes ended the director side of his career with the very forgettable Curly Sue. The movie stars Jim Belushi (who’s actually not that bad) as a homeless man caring for a young girl. Together, the two run scams on people for food and shelter. Then they meet a cold attorney played by Kelly Lynch, and together the three of them learn a lot about themselves.

It’s a heartwarming story that’s been done to death and lacks originality. Too much time is spent establishing the characters that, frankly, are tired archetypes to begin with and, thus, need only a couple scenes of setup.

I was pretty disappointed with the movie overall. It was my Dishonorable Mention for Worst First Viewing in last month’s Movie Roundup. But it wasn’t all bad. Jim Belushi actually turned in a good performance and the girl who played Curly Sue wasn’t awful, either.

Coming off the heels of Uncle Buck, Curly Sue is an interesting example of a talented writer/director having an off day. It’s a shame that Hughes chose that movie as his last one in the director’s chair.

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John Hughes was a man whose work was so numerous and varied throughout his career that no one simply disliked him in one fell swoop. If you dislike a John Hughes movie, there stands a very good chance that there is that one special John Hughes movie for you. Whether he wrote, directed or produced it, his presence is felt in everything he touched.

Even though I fully admit to disliking some of his work, the movies of his that I love more than make up for the ones I don’t.

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5 responses to “The John Hughes Re-Education

  1. I saw Ferris Bueller for the first time when I was thirteen or fourteen and I loved it. I’ve seen it several times since then, and last year I showed it to my students at the end of the school year. All of the sudden, I absolutely hated it. Ferris Bueller is detestable. I don’t think anything he does is justified. I remember having a very lengthy dialogue with a co-worker about it, and we both agreed. My feelings about Ferris Bueller the character ruin the movie.

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    • He’s an asshole teenager who’s a manipulative asshole to his friends. I was really hoping for a sequel that would show where his narcissistic slacker behavior got him today. But that’ll never happen.

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  2. John Hughes has such an incredible body of work. I’ve always been a big fan of his films. My girlfriend and I actually watched the Breakfast Club and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles a couple of weeks ago. I miss these type of films, because we never seem to get anything like them today. They sure don’t make movies like they used to.

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  3. Pingback: The Obsessive Viewer Podcast – Ep 184 – Raunchy Comedies – Bloodline Cancelled, Star Trek Discovery Delay, Harley and the Davidsons, and Black Mirror | The Obsessive Viewer

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