John Hughes - Some kind of wonderful
Alistair Harkness, Scotland’s leading authority on the films of John Hughes, bids farewell to a master and basks in his afterglow
John Hughes never meant much to me as a kid. Put it down to timing. I was ten when The Breakfast Club came out, the perfect age for Back to the Future, not for a bunch of high school stereotypes hanging out in detention. Sure, I liked Weird Science (what 80s adolescent wouldn’t want to be able to use their computer to magic Kelly LeBrock out of thin air?), and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has always been impossible to resist. But by the time I finally got round to seeing his alleged generation-defining masterpiece, grunge had exploded, the times had changed and I’d already watched Christian Slater answering the taunts of the high school jocks in Heathers with a Jack Nicholson drawl and a Magnum 44. After that, the bad boy posturing of Judd Nelson couldn’t really compete.
Over the years, though, I’ve developed a love of Hughes’s 80s high school movies. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, even the insipid Some Kind of Wonderful, all written, produced and mostly directed by Hughes (like Ferris Bueller and Weird Science) in a burst of creativity between 1984 and 1987, have acquired a kind of retro cool – like The Cure and The Psychedelic Furs and all the other great and not-so-great bands that frequently featured on his soundtracks.
Defiantly and unapologetically of their time, these films may not have had much to do with reality, but it has become easier to appreciate just how brilliantly Hughes was able to articulate the way something as seemingly trivial as being ignored by your parents or just wanting to fit in could define your entire world.
That’s why, even though I didn’t mourn Hughes’s gradual disappearance after making Home Alone and the wretched Curly Sue, the news last month that he’d died from a heart attack at the age of 59 almost felt like losing a friend. Sure, his high school films may frequently have sent out weird mixed messages – Ally Sheedy’s make-over at the end of The Breakfast Club still hurts – but they’ve still got a fresh, funny vibe about them and a remarkably casual, non-judgmental attitude towards sex, drugs and alcohol.
What’s more, their influence is everywhere. With its brief appearances by the young John and Joan Cusack, Sixteen Candles can be viewed as a demented prequel to Grosse Point Blank; Juno is basically Pretty in Pink reconfigured for a more switched-on girl, and Kevin Smith’s best films are John Hughes movies with filthier dialogue.
Then there’s this fortnight’s 80s-set Adventureland (pictured) from Superbad director Greg Mottola, a beautifully judged rites-of-passage movie that effectively reverse-engineers the archetypes Hughes’s films popularised and turns them living, breathing people. Check out Jesse Eisenberg’s virginal theme park worker, then imagine him being played by Anthony Michael Hall in the Hughes version. It totally works. That’s because while Hughes may have presented a fantasy version of adolescence, that didn’t make it any less truthful. The best teen movies haven’t forgotten that.
Adventureland is on general release from Fri 11 Sep. See review page 51.