John Hughes was the voice of a generation. The director-writer-producer captured how it felt to grow up in the 1980s – for the Generation X demographic, at least. He’s best known for teen comedies like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – a hot streak endlessly hailed as his “Holy Trinity” since his sudden death from a heart attack August 7, 2009. But lost in the much-deserved eulogizing is the fact that Hughes’ creative career began and ended with stories about adults. The teen movies were just one corner of his world.
Even if your prom took place 20 years ago, Hughes’ less-renowned movies depict situations and scenarios that are not-unlike something you experienced this year. Whether he was telling the tales of isolated pre-teens or aging parents, his work was a cavalcade of quotable lines, memorable scenes, prescient musical choices, and you-saw-them-here-first casting. Look close, and John Hughes’ 1980s movies take place in present tense.
Before the Movies
Hughes was born in Michigan, raised in Chicago and coronated in Hollywood. He returned to the Midwest in 1998, walking away from the movie business after directing eight films, scripting 28, producing 23, and creating stories for more than a dozen others. In this multimedia age, he’d become more than a seminal director. He was one of his era’s great writers.
“He was the Wordsworth of the suburban America postwar generation,” declared Ben Stein – the former Nixon speechwriter turned actor who famously asked ‘Bueller? Buuueller?’ – at Hughes’ invitation-only funeral. “He was a great, great genius, and as much of a friend and great family man as he we was a poet.”
In many ways, the movies are all we have of John Hughes. Interviews were rare, profiles incomplete – in the documentary Don't You Forget About Me, Canadian filmmakers scour Hughes’ world for the director, but don’t find him.
Pre-fame friends recall Hughes as shy. Hollywood associates say he was magnetic. In 1988, Premiere magazine’s Terry Minsky described him as reclusive, and unconvincingly painted him as an eccentric pain-in-the-ass. Nobody has written a full biography, and it’s easy to undertand why: Those close to him don’t breach his confidence. And – money and success notwithstanding – it’s not a sensational story.
Born in 1950, Hughes grew up in the middle-class Chicago suburbs, not far from where the spoiled rich kids lived. He married his high school sweetheart – they’d been married 39 years when he died. Hughes dropped out of the University of Arizona and found work writing creative copy for Chicago’s Leo Burnett agency. “Tireless and prolific,” recalled his former boss, Robert Nolan, for Huffington Post. “A committed workaholic…. He was a whirlwind, banging away on his typewriter from morning till night.”
At night, he wrote jokes for comedians like Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers. Hughes loved comedy and music. In the late ’70s, he discovered the Clash and listened to them while writing short stories like the freelance pieces he placed in National Lampoon. (Now Lampoon is best known as a movie brand; at the time it was white-hot humor magazine.)
During that time, Hughes burned the candle at both ends. Some mornings, he’d report to work at his Chicago ad agency. He’d turn on the lights and leave a steaming cup of coffee and lit cigarette on his desk. Then he’d sneak off to the airport and fly to New York, where he’d hang around the Lampoon offices. Eventually, he left the agency for an editor job at the magazine.
At National Lampoon, Hughes – a lifelong Republican – palled around with P.J. O’Rourke, a Toledo native and future New Journalism giant whose views had made him an office pariah. They later collaborated on the unproduced screenplay The History of Ohio from the Beginning of Time to the End of the Universe, a dramatic adaptation of Lampoon’s Sunday Newspaper Parody, an Onion-like sendup of a small-town paper.
National Lampoon got Hughes’ foot in Hollywood’s door. IMDB lists Hughes’ first screenwriting credit as Delta House, the 1979 TV-series adaptation of Lampoon’s Animal House. The show was a dud, but Lampoon kept him on for 1982’s ribald and convoluted Class Reunion. After the next year’s big breakthroughs, he’d never have to worry about moonlighting again.
Hughes’ first major work, 1983’s Mr. Mom, is his most relevant piece at the time of his death. The movie stars Michael Keaton – a rising star who should have been the next Bill Murray – as Jack Butler, an auto executive who’s laid off when the American car industry collapses.
Unemployed Keaton can’t find a job, but his wife, Caroline (Terri Garr), can. So he stays home and learns to take care of three young kids and the house they live in. The hairstyles and clothes are dated, but the film is still hilarious, packed with timeless humor about family life. In addition to tender husband-wife and dad-kid moments, the movie documents recession economics, satirizes workplace politics, and explores issues like marital strain. All within the parameters of a PG rating.
Random Memorable Lines:
“220, 221 – whatever it takes.”
Casting tidbit: Keaton’s duplicitous boss is played by Jeffrey Tambor, who finally reached the A list as The Larry Sanders Show’s Hank “Hey now!” Kingsley.
National Lampoon’s Vacation series
National Lampoon’s Vacation was based on Hughes’ Lampoon short story, “Vacation ’58.” The flick was released in 1983, just as HBO and VCRs were changing the way America consumed movies and how thoroughly we could absorb them. Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, Caddyshack) directed the first film in Hughes’ first franchise, Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless) directed 1985’s European Vacation, which initially disappointed, but has aged well. Different creators stepped in for 1997’s Vegas Vacation, which was a severe step down from Hughes’ underrecognized Yuletide nugget, 1989’s Christmas Vacation. Unlike Rusty – the Griswold son who was played by a different actor in every movie -- there was no replacing Hughes.
Like Hughes’ teen characters, Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold is often cartoonish. But over the course of the series, Hughes develops him as a loving dad obsessed with giving his family memories that match his idealized, halcyon recollections of his youth.
Though his bosses don’t appreciate him, Clark is great at what he does – “a genius with food additives,” declares wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) in the first movie. A deadbeat branch of his clan also lean on him unconscionably, yet take him for granted. Still, his family and their happiness are his top priorities, and he’ll literally crawl through the desert for them. Even if it brings him to the brink of madness. And it does: As Ellen is describing him as “a saint with children,” he’s wandering lost in the Western wilderness, deliriously singing show tunes.
Random Memorable Vacation Lines:
“Look kids – Big Ben, Parliament… I can’t get left.”
“We’re gonna be having so much fuckin’ fun, we’re gonna be whistling ‘Zippity Doo Da’ out of our assholes.”
Musical Moment: Vacation’s inclusion of the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” probably introduced more people to punk than anything before the Warped Tour.
Casting tidbit: 30 Rock Star Jane Krakowski (“Jenna Maroney”) made her big-screen debut in Vacation as white-trash Cousin Vicki, who declares, “I’m going steady, and I French kiss.” If you know the rest, fill it in. If not, add to your Netflix cue immediately.
Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller
In 1984, 16 Candles made Hughes a name to watch. In 1985, The Breakfast Club -- rated R for F-bombs a ridiculous marijuana scene – marked his arrival as a brand. (Later that year, Weird Science (unjustly) failed to achieve their iconic status.) But 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off cemented his reputation as a great filmmaker, writer, director, creator of characters, and curator of rising talent.
“Few directors have left a more distinctive or influential body of work than John Hughes,” wrote Roger Ebert after Hughes’ death. “[He was] the creator of the modern American teenager film.”
You’ve memorized them, maybe lived them, maybe both. These films are the Hughes canon, and they received a metric ton in the days following his death. Here’s one great point from throwingthings.blogspot.com, where people who grew up in suburban Chicago reflect on Hughes’ fictitious interpretations of North Shore life: A poster named Adam wrote, “With the possible exception of Sloane in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, women weren’t sex objects in his films, or empty slates, but fully-formed central characters.”
In the Porky’s era, actresses who were clearly 28 years old played teenagers and showed us full-frontal nudity. But Hughes gave us flat-chested Molly Ringwald and a dandruff-affected, proto-Goth Ally Sheedy – and made us love them.
Young adults immediately embraced the landmark movies, but they weren’t universally hailed. New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael wrote The Breakfast Club off as “a movie about a bunch of stereotypes who complain that other people see them as stereotypes.” Maybe they were stereotypes, but they weren’t fabrications.
Random Memorable Lines:
“Fred, she’s gotten her boobies. And they’re so perky…”
“Mess with the bull, you get the horns.”
“Life goes by pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around, you can miss it.”
Musical Moment: Sixteen Candles: The synthesizer bliss of the Thompson Twins’ “If You Were Here” as Samantha and heartthrob Jake kiss at the movie’s end.
Casting Tidbit: Chicago-spawned actor John Cusack plays a supporting geek in Sixteen Candles, and might have become a fixture in Hughes’ company of players. But when Hughes passed him over for Judd Nelson’s Breakfast Club role, Cusack took it personally, and the two never worked together again.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Race
In high school, Hughes was an outsider, but not a geek. Ferris Bueller was his smoothest character, quick-witted, good-looking, and popular with everybody. Ferris reenacted episodes from Hughes’ teen years. Childhood friend Edward McNally -- whose best friend was named “Buehler” -- recalled their youth for the Washington Post, describing hijinks that took place around the Glenbrook North high school where Hughes returned to film Breakfast Club and Bueller. As kids, they borrowed his dad’s car, skipped school, and avoided a dean. Apparently, they never got caught.
Like most movies, the script has disconnects. But generally speaking, everything about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is awesome. A week after his death, it was at the top of a Huffington Post readers’ poll (followed by, in this order: Breakfast Club, then Vacation, Pretty in Pink, and Sixteen Candles). ‘Nuff said. Almost.
This is an esoteric point, but for decades, countless thousands of kids of Irish and Lebanese descent with the name “Faris,” “Farris,” or “Ferris” had to enjoy endless taunts of “Ferris wheel! Huh, huh!” Hughes put an end to that shit. Because nothing was cooler than Ferris Bueller.
Granted, Hughes probably did the opposite for Asian teens with Sixteen Candles’ Long Duk Dong – an awkward, but not entirely stereotypical character who, don’t get me wrong, can still make me snicker all afternoon, right or wrong.
More than 20 years later, Hughes’ films draw fire for not being racially diverse, and for rehashing stereotypes. It’s a key theme to a pig-pile of deprecation by writers from the Onion’s A.V. Club. It’s tough to defend the stereotypes, but the lily-white casting is reasonable. America wasn’t as integrated then. Hughes was a white guy who grew up around white people. That’s what he knew. That’s what he wrote about.
Random memorable lines:
“Save Ferris. Save Ferris.”
Musical Moment: The Dream Academy’s instrumental cover of the Smith’s "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want" as Cameron stares at an Impressionist painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
Casting tidbit: Ferris Bueller introduced Dirty Dancing star Jennifer Grey (“Baby”) to the world.
Breakfast Club-Sixteen Candles-Ferris Bueller is an alleged Holy Trinity because, in fact, Hughes ’84-86 streak as a writer-director was a holy quadrilogy.
If you were a geek guy, 1985’s Weird Science is every bit as good as those other three movies. Anthony Michael Hall – who made his debut in Sixteen Candles, in a role credited as The Geek -- and Ilan Mitchell-Smith play Gary and Wyatt. They’re two nobody nerds who dream of dating hot girls and throwing parties. The hapless duo use a computer to create Kelly LeBrock’s Lisa, a superhuman woman with body of Venus and the powers of Zeus. Hilarity ensues, and life-lessons are learned.
Filled with techno-magic, Weird Science is Hughes’ deepest foray into fantasy, but it has two of his greatest moments as a writer-director.
Lisa mentors the young lads and tries to teach them confidence. In one truly classic comedy scene, she drags them to a blues bar, which is populated with some of the only black faces we see in Hughes’ flicks. By night’s end, the three white people have won the crowd’s acceptance. At closing time, as guitar notes float in the background and smoke wafts through the air, Anthony Michael Hall regales a table of regulars with a tale about his great lost love.
“Fats,” says Hall. “Lemme tell you my story, man. Last year, I was insane for this crazy little eighth-grade bitch…”
“Crazy-insane?” says one, genuinely hooked.
“Insane-crazy?” spits another, rapt.
And they hang on his every word. It’s ridiculous, which is the entire point. Groan if you want to. My Black-Lit teacher loved the scene too (not that he used it in class). So don’t take my word for it.
The movie isn’t pure comedy.
Over the years, Hughes created a whole array of scenes that’ll make you sniffle if you’re not some kind of prick: in Breakfast Club, weepy confessions from braniac Anthony Michael and wrestler Emilio Estevez. In Ferris Bueller, the alternating shots of Cameron and a Seurat painting. Any number of little things from Pretty in Pink. Weird Science has a scene that’s a different kind of sad. It’s not a tear-jerker; it’s just a punch in the nuts.
Gary and Wyatt publicly debut Lisa, their sophisticated European escort, at the mall, the community’s social epicenter. Lisa, however, isn’t the geeks’ ultimate romantic goal. They’re really trying to angle for two girls who already have suave, sadistic boyfriends, one played by Morton Downey Jr. Lisa buys the geeks designer clothes and poses with them. For once, people are talking about nerds, and it’s not to mock them. Lisa, Gary, and Wyatt rest on a bench on the mall’s lower level, unaware that the hot girls’ boyfriends are watching from the floor above, sipping a cherry Slurpee.
Below, after years of humiliation, Anthony Michael Hall finally exhales. He is in the zone. He is the man.
“You know, Wyatt?” he says. “For once in my life, I don’t feel like a complete dick.”
And above, the boyfriends dump gallons of red slush on the geeks. The entire population of the mall turn, look at the soaked losers, point, and laugh riotously. It’s not as horrific as the crimson dousing in Carrie’s prom scene. But it's close.
Random Memorable Lines:
“Ma, I never tossed off, to anything!”
“You’re stewed, buttwad!”
Musical moment: The title song by Oingo Bongo, the Southern-California institution led by Danny Elfman, who became a noted film composer and wrote the Simpsons theme.
Casting tidbit: Bill Paxton (HBO’s Big Love, Frailty) plays Wyatt’s bully older brother, Chet. Even if we acknowledge his excellent dramatic work as an adult, Chet may still be his signature role.
Pretty in Pink
In 1986, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was Hughes’ teen-comedy swan song. By the time it arrived, he had one foot out the door. That year, he also released Pretty in Pink. Hughes wrote this flick, but it was directed by Howard Deutch, a first-timer who had shot videos for Billy Joel and Billy Idol, and went on to helm The Replacements and The Whole Ten Yards.
In Pretty in Pink, Molly Ringwald plays the unfortunately named Andie Walsh. Andie’s a poor girl who’s attracted to Blane, a rich kid with commitment issues and no spine, played by a young Andrew McCarthy. They play footsy while her long-suffering, equally unpopular friend Duckie pines away, unrequited.
Most adults in Hughes’ teen movies are bumblers, oblivious, or assholes. Pretty in Pink is best – and accurately – remembered as a prom drama. But the movie also has Hughes’ most downtrodden adult: Harry Dean Stanton (more recently Roman Grant in Big Love) plays Andie’s alcoholic father. He’s never recovered from her mother’s death. Andie has become his caretaker, and his emotional hobbling contributes in no small part to her daily difficulties.
Musical moment: Hughes cuts a kinetic scene to the rapid tick-tock of New Order’s “Shellshock.”
Casting tidbit: A young James Spader and Kate Vernon (Battlestar Galactica’s Ellen Tigh) play a sleezy couple of underage socialites. Duckie is played by Two and a Half Men’s John Cryer; his current sitcom co-star Charlie Sheen has a small role in Ferris Bueller.
Some Kind of Wonderful
Hughes was working at a manic clip, and couldn’t keep up with his own output: Between 1982 and ’94, he would write and direct 25 movies. While Hughes was mired in writing , staging, and directing 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles, he let Deutch direct his script for Some Kind of Wonderful (also ’87). Deutch’s movies looked slicker and conveyed the grittier feel of the young-adult world's social Darwinism. Though Pretty and Some Kind of Wonderful were immersive experiences, they lacked the comforting vibe found in the movies that Hughes both wrote and directed.
Wonderful inverts the premise of Pretty in Pink: Poor boy Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz) pines after a popular girl Amanda Jones (Leah Thompson). She’s also poor, but smoking-hot enough to be tenuously accepted by the rich kids. It’s an underrecognized masterpiece and high point in the teen-drama genre, with comedic moments served on the side.
Hughes always made great use of music in his movies, mining the nascent underground of college rock – arty and/or British bands that would give rise to the “alternative” movement. Most of his soundtracks, however, never achieved the classic status they deserved, for various legal reasons. (The St. Louis Riverfront Times' Annie Zaleski compiled great Hughes musical moments with the sordid history of his soundtracks.).
Some Kind of Wonderful, hardly by default, is the best Hughes movie soundtrack album, filled -- as many good OSTs are -- with covers (Lick the Tins cover Elvis [Presley, not Costello]), solo joints by elder statesmen (the Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley), stuff you tried to like but just couldn't get into (Furniture), and a hot single by a buzz band (Flesh for Lulu's "I Go Crazy").
Maybe other directors used the Smiths and New Order on their soundtracks, but Hughes certainly didn't lean on them for visceral shorthand. His selections were perfectly suited to the drama and visual moments at hand. He used some A-squad bands, but mostly tapped sub-rosa godheads like Sigue Sigue Sputnik ("Love Missile F1-11," the pumping synth rock early in Ferris Bueller) and the March Violets ("Turn to the Sky" is a full motif in Wonderful).
Some Kind of Wonderful and Pretty in Pink are commonly slagged by fans who revel in Hughes’ early whimsy. The dramas definitely aren’t as fun. Before angst broke big, Hughes dealt it in volume.
“People forget that when you’re 16, you’re probably more serious than you’ll ever be again,” Hughes told Roger Ebert on the set of The Breakfast Club. “You think seriously about big questions.”
Random Memorable Lines:
Amanda: “At least I have friends.”
Keith: “Are you sure?”
Casting tidbit: Mary Stuart Masterson's tomboy Watts (just "Watts") spends movie crushing on Keith, who bafflingly fails to take an interest in her until the end. Her short-haired character is classical example of a role that's written as a plain-to-homely girl, but cast with a knockout.
The Way Up & Out…
After 1987, the teen spirit left Hughes. His commercial peak was ahead of him: 1990’s Home Alone launched his second franchise, brought him bargeloads of money, and made him a top-tier commodity. He wrote and produced the flick, but didn’t direct. When it left theaters, it was the no. 3 top-grossing movie of all time. As of 2009, it was still no. 37. Among pre-1991 films, only Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, and E.T. had outearned it. It remains the top-earning live-action comedy of all time.
Hughes closed the ’80s with adult-themed comedies including The Great Outdoors (1988) and Uncle Buck (1989). In 1991, the treacly Curly Sue was his last film effort as a writer-director. He worked steadily through the ’90s, first turning in more adult-themed fare like Dutch, then churning out comedies like Dennis the Menace. He stuck to writing and producing, steadily accumulating producer credits on sequels to Beethoven (which he wrote under the pseudonym Edmond Dantès) and Home Alone, often without creative involvement. The last real John Hughes Movie was 1998’s Reach the Rock, which he wrote and produced, but didn’t direct. The uneven indie drama came and went, largely unnoticed.
Then Hughes was gone. He returned to the Midwest, where he spent his last decade living on a farm in northern Illinois. Accounts varied. One report said he went to see Wes Anderson’s 1998 coming-of-age dramedy Rushmore and emerged from feeling dejected, wondering what he’d let happen to his portfolio. Another said he simply realized the next generation had arrived. Regardless, he didn’t need Hollywood.
Hughes was always something of an outsider, and his conservative sensibilities perpetuated that status in the liberal-dominated Hollywood community. Hughes retained his Midwest mentality, and even in his prime, he’d been just as likely to chat up a Teamster as a movie star. He never saw returning home as a step down. Early on, he told Ebert why he shot Hollywood movies in Chicago: “This is a working city where people got to their jobs and raise their kids and live their lives. In Hollywood, I’d be hanging around with a lot of people who don’t have to pay when they go to movies.”
So Hughes stayed home and went back to the basics. He wrote short stories, and apparently left behind quite an unpublished body of work. A lifelong Anglophile, he spent his retirement studying Shakespeare. Movies weren’t that important to him any more.
In a gush of postmortem tributes, Alison Byrne Fields’ revealing “Sincerely, John Hughes” was widely hailed as the most touching piece. As a teenager, Fields corresponded with Hughes and became, literally, his number-one fan. They stayed in touch. Her account of the correspondence says Hughes walked away from Hollywood so his teenage sons could grow up outside of L.A.’s warped, superficial reality. It’s easy to imagine him loathing the idea that his sons could become rich brats like Hardy Jenns from Some Kind of Wonderful. And after four Home Alone movies, he could afford to stay home with his family. Why continue sparring with the studio heads and directors he loathed?
“He could see with a laser scope through all the phonies and the bullshit,” recalled Scott Sloan, a friend of Hughes’ sons, for Paste magazine. “And he ultimately did not enjoy going there himself.”
Molly Ringwald eulogized him for the New York Times, revealing that they hadn’t talked for 20 years. “John retreated from Hollywood and became a sort of J.D. Salinger for Generation X,” she wrote. “But really, sometime before then, he had retreated from us and from the kids of movies that he had made with us…. It was like his heart had closed, or at least was no longer open for public view.”
She’s Having a Baby
After the ’80s, Hughes saved his best energy for his energy for his home life. Maybe he was tapped. I like to think he wasn’t. I never interviewed him and didn’t know him, but I like to think he had more memories to plumb, more scripts to write, and more good music in mind for those scenes.
Over the years, my enduring hope was that Hughes would return to his last great personal work: 1988’s She’s Having a Baby. If you can no longer relate to Sixteen Candles, or The Breakfast Club makes you squirm, rest assured that She’s Having a Baby can hit you where you live for the rest of your life. As a husband and father, not a week goes by that I don’t think of a line from She’s Having a Baby.
On its surface, She’s Having a Baby is Hughes’ most starkly autobiographical work: In high school, Jefferson “Jake” Briggs meets his future wife. They date through college. He drops out of grad school and winds up working on a Chicago loading dock, where his coworkers berate and mock him. He lands an advertising office job. They buy a house in the ’burbs. His older neighbors grill him about his lawnmower and wife, whom he struggles to impregnate. The couple go to a trendy nightclub and realize the hot new places are no longer their places. His fidelity is tested, and he settles in as a husband and dad. End of story.
She’s Having a Baby isn’t as fun as his teen movies, but that’s what life after high school is like. Compared to those early flicks, its just as emotionally accurate. Every bit of it. If you’re at Home Depot, don’t get the cheap vinyl hose; and if you’re buying a lawnmower, you might as well splurge on the big Yard King 410. Sometimes your neighbors have knowledge to impart; sometimes they’re full of shit. When you’re outside the delivery room and the doctor suddenly says “caesarian,” the adrenaline rush and unimaginable fear take your head to a place that’s best conveyed by slow-motion. Eventually – if you’re lucky -- you learn you’re not going to control your world, and sometimes it’s most important to simply not fuck up.
Maybe it’s not Hughes’ most profound flick. Maybe, like much art, you have to be in a certain spot to appreciate it. The movie went over my head when I was a teenager. And maybe that’s the reason I don’t love Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which credible sources identify as a holiday masterpiece. Steve Martin and John Candy are a dream team, but I can’t relate to Martin’s 40-something professional who’s always on the road. Not yet.
Regardless, Hughes’ last young-man’s film had an intriguing flash, a scene just seconds long. Jake flashes back to the first time he met his wife. Shot in black and white, it takes place in a finished basement. It’s maybe 1978, at least 1976. “Boston’s More Than a Feeling” is playing -- the soaring guitar melody, right before the bridge. The teenagers lock eyes, and it’s all over for Jake.
Despite the couple’s later conception troubles, that is a pregnant moment. I like to think Hughes had a great ’70s movie in him -- something they could have sold as a two-pack with Dazed and Confused. Or a drama. It was all right there in that non-scene. All he needed was a plot, a few more characters, and some dialogue. The nut of the idea and vibe – those are the hard parts.
Maybe he could have made a college movie. (Or maybe St. Elmo’s Fire, starring most of The Breakfast Club, now dubbed “the Brat Pack,” hogged that spot.) Hughes’ kids are grown. He must have been bored from time to time. I hoped and hoped he’d pull it together for one last run. But, as Ferris Bueller said, “Life goes by pretty fast.”
And now it seems that’s what Hughes was trying to tell us as he chronicled the détente that can take place on the fringes of the class wars: We are Samantha. Or John Bender. Or Andrew. And life takes weird bounces. Maybe we grow into Claire or Chet. Maybe you have a couple Ferris days. All of sudden, you’re Carl the janitor. Or Jake. Next we’re Keith’s dad and Mrs. Johnson, demanding our kids not repeat our mistakes.
Molly Ringwald was American’s teen-dream sweetheart in 16 Candles. Now she plays the mom of a teen mother on an ABC Family drama. If we live long enough for a sequel, we’ll be Samantha’s grandparents. And thanks to Hughes, not only will we remember it all, but we’ll remember it as being better – and worse – than it was.
A shorter version of this tribute to John Hughes ran in Cleveland Scene August 19 2009, shortly after his death. The original was cut short for space and concentrated on Hughes' body of work. This "Director's Cut" long version presents a better overall picture of the enigmatic Hughes and ties together more information from the best tributes that emerged in those initial weeks.