Thank You, John Hughes.

Thank You, John Hughes. August 6, 2009

Yes, I am saddened by the news about director John Hughes’ sudden death of a heart attack today. He was only 59, and might have had a comeback in him. I would have welcomed that. Some of his films were creative, hilarious, and even unusually thoughtful for pop comedies.

I have so many memories attached to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which was a favorite at high-school slumber parties. I’ve quoted almost every line in that movie many, many times. Yes, even the lines from that scene… that one that made it a controversial choice for parties among my conservative Christian classmates.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles actually meant something to me. It may be that I’m revising my memories for the sake of idealism, but I don’t think so. I seem to remember how the conclusion of that film often sobered my circle of friends as we watched. We would laugh uproariously at Del Griffith (John Candy) and his rude behavior, his intolerable yammering, his clumsiness. I don’t think that was cruel laughter; we laughed out of sympathy for Steve Martin’s character, for we could relate to his suffering. We all knew what it was like to be annoyed by somebody else’s company. But at the end, we would be moved, if only for a few moments, by the way the film emphasized the value of even the most annoying human being. We came to care about Del, and to realize that, yes, even he deserves a place at the Thanksgiving table. I suspect the film made us less likely to taunt our awkward or aggravating classmates.

Did any of Hughes’ movies actually mean something to you? Tell me about it.

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10 responses to “Thank You, John Hughes.”

  1. I’m 23. And by “reading”, I largely mean, “reading Ebert’s reviews of said 90s movies”. ;)

  2. Gaith, just wondering, how old are you? I ask because I am intrigued to hear you say that you’ve been “reading” about Hughes’s post-PT&A work.

    For my part, I lived through it: I was a high-schooler in the ’80s myself, but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was the only one of Hughes’s films that I saw in the theatre back then (I also saw The Breakfast Club on VHS); for whatever reason, I knew him more by reputation than by his actual films. And then, in the ’90s, as I segued into becoming a film critic, Hughes switched from Gen-X high-school flicks to Gen-Y kiddie flicks, and so I ended up seeing the first and third Home Alones, the first Beethoven, his remakes of Miracle on 34th Street, 101 Dalmatians and Flubber, and so on. (I never saw Dennis the Menace or Curly Sue, though.) And whereas the Hughes of the ’80s had been praised for his sensitivity to character development etc., the Hughes of the ’90s was known mainly for making “crotch-trauma humour” a staple of children’s films.

    So I’m afraid the Hughes of the ’90s is by far more vivid in my memory than the Hughes of the ’80s.

    That being said, I must admit that one of the soundtracks I listened to most obsessively in my early university days was the CD for She’s Having a Baby. Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work’ could sometimes bring me to tears, and it was all because of the scene in that film where Kevin Bacon suddenly finds himself forced to wait outside the delivery room. My dad had told me stories about how difficult my own birth was, and how hard it had been for him to sit in the waiting room, and when I saw that film (at the age of 17 or 18), I had my first real inkling of what that might have been like for him.

    It’s been over 20 years now since I saw that film on VHS, but now that I have my own kids, I wonder how it would hold up.

  3. I too would have loved a Hughes comeback, but the stuff I’ve read about his post-PT&A career makes me feel betrayed. Such gifts… put to work on the “Home Alone” movies?

    However, I will always be grateful for Sixteen Candles, TBC, Weird Science, FBDO, Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful. (I’m sure I’ll enjoy PT&A and Vacation also, but I haven’t seen them.)

    Though not the best of the bunch by any measure, Weird Science may be my personal favorite, largely because it’s the first of his I saw, and because I was just as… er, “inexperienced” as the boys were at the start. Oh, there are terrible scenes in there, but I fast-forward through them.

    I’ve been wondering lately why the 80s were such a magical time for movies about youngsters. From “Back to the Future” to the Hughes oeuvre to “Say Anything…” and even semi-forgotten yet charming oddball flicks like “The Last Starfighter”, it seems that there was something special in the air. Maybe the Reagan-era “me”-centric culture made artists turn to the youth for characters who weren’t like those in “Wall Street”, and didn’t think that Oliver North was a great guy. Maybe it was the last children of the stereotypical Norman Rockwell 1950s, mixing their idealized memories with the singularly colorful fashions of the moment. Maybe demographics demanded teen-centric movies, and we only remember the handful of good ones. I don’t know.

    Regardless, Hughes gave us some great movies. We won’t forget about him anytime soon.

  4. When I was little I wanted to be Ferris Bueller, and I still remember watching it for the first time. My brother and I tried to trick out our room with all of the silly contraptions even down to the synthesizer noises. Needless to say, none of it really panned out. However, I was in Chicago during the Spring and went to the art museum just to recreate the scenes from the movie.

  5. Planes Trains and Automobiles is the first R rated film any of my children ever saw. It is an annual Thanksgiving tradition in our home. I never fail to laugh, and I never fail to cry.

    I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Hughes, outside of PT&A and Ferris Bueller there is very little that lingers in my memory from any of his other films. However, the joy he has provided my family through PT&A is enough to sadden me greatly at his passing.

  6. How can you not love Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Weird Science? For me, these movies affirmed that it’s okay to be an outcast, and they revealed the beauty of friendships that happen on the fringes.

  7. As a child of the 80s, the quadruple punch of Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Weird Science and Ferris Bueller were game-changing. Sure, there were quality 80s high school films beforehand (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Risky Business), but there was a consistency in Hughes’ material that marked a new page, one that translates well to today.

    I second “She’s Having a Baby”–far from a perfect film, but when my wife was pregnant, we found ourselves revisiting and rediscovering the gem of what that film tried to do. Not everything worked in that film, but those parts which worked rang more true than most other films about the early years of marriage.

  8. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles made me laugh until I cried, and it touched me in the same way it touched you, Jeffrey. I also love She’s Having a Baby, which I think is an underrated gem of Hughes’s filmography. That film resonated so much with me in my own marriage — it, too, is about growing up, and I still love it.

  9. When I was younger I watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles for THAT scene, and the “those aren’t pillows” scene. Then it just became a yearly Thanksgiving tradition. But in the past few years I’ve come to really admire the film as more than just a good road comedy…I sincerely think it may be a near perfect comedy and features the best work Steve Martin and John Candy ever did. It’s still hilarious 22 years later and yet the final scene is a real gut punch.

    It worked because Hughes was a character writer first and foremost. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a silly piece of fluff, except that Ferris is such a wonderfully written character and the story is so much fun. Also can’t forget Hughes’ involvement in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” which I recently rewatched and find to still be an edgy, blisteringly funny satire.

    I can’t believe Curly Sue was his last film but, really, everyone’s tried to recapture his mix of comedy and emotional honesty. Most successfully these days is Judd Apatow, but Hughes was able to do it (most the time) without the raunch. He was truly a rare breed and I’m surprised to find just how many movies he had a hand in that I absolutely love.

  10. I, too, loved Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, however I think Ferris Bueller and Breakfast Club were the two movies I remember being most influenced by. Ferris Bueller, mainly because of the relationship between the friends, and Breakfast Club, the definitive total-opposites-find-common-ground film, were the ones that I remember best. I remember thinking how John Hughes was so good at interjecting serious subjects into very light-hearted (for the most part) films. For Ferris Bueller, I always remember the struggle Cameron had with his father and how it created an undue stress for him. Then the Breakfast Club was packed full of all kinds of struggles and angst. It showed the value of not taking anyone at face value or by who they hang out with. Sometimes they, even if they are super popular, are just as trapped feeling as those nerds who get shoved in the lockers. The parents’ influence influences each star in the movie as well. John Hughes knew how to make a light-hearted, but thoughtful film about growing up and valuing every individual.