High Museum of Art: Films

Eleanor Ringel-Cater on John Hughes by Linda Dubler
August 10, 2009, 10:18 am
Filed under: General, Guest Blogger, Top Picks | Tags: , , ,

The sudden loss of John Hughes—he was 59, for God’s sake, and he had a HEART ATTACK!!! while walking around New York City— somehow doesn’t make sense.

Budd Schulberg, who died a day earlier, was in his 90s and died of natural causes. But Hughes, he was like a kid.

John Hughes

John Hughes

Okay, like a kid the way all Baby Boomers want to see themselves as still like kids (especially over this Woodstock Anniversary Weekend). But one of the most interesting things about Hughes’ career was, aside from some movies with John Candy and Steve Martin (Planes, Trains and Automobiles) and Chevy Chase’s Vacation pictures, Hughes wrote about kids. Teens mostly, who were all about 15-18 years younger than him

He was, in a sense, the best big brother the Gen-Xers ever had. He got it. And he got it through their often hyperventilating filter, not his or that of his peers. He chronicled the troubles and triumphs of middle-class suburbia with an expert psychological acuity. And he knew when to be funny and when to take stuff (Senior Prom, say) seriously.

And he wasn’t afraid to think like a girl. In this post-American Pie era, it’s amazing to think back and realize he created as many memorable females as males. Molly Ringwald, the teen queen of  Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club comes immediately to mind. So does Ally Sheedy, another detention-hall detainee in The Breakfast Club. And the touching tom-boy Mary Stuart Masterson in Some Kind of Wonderful, as well Lea Thompson, who played a Dream Girl with a heart and a personality in the same film (compare her to the title character in the recent  I Love You Beth Cooper and you may feel nauseated).

Molly Ringwald and John Cryer in Pretty in Pink

Molly Ringwald and John Cryer in Pretty in Pink

He didn’t do badly by the guys, either. Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off remains an icon of teen anarchy for the ages.  Emilio Estevez showed us jocks could be good guys too, in The Breakfast Club. Jon Cryer did the same for geeks in Pretty in Pink.

The end of the ‘80s was pretty much the end of Hughes and I’m not sure why. The last movie he wrote and directed was the infinitely deplorable Curly Sue (to this day, “She’s Adorable!” remains a code word with certain friends). He continued to write, but, aside from the first Home Alone, which probably owes its reputation to Macaulay Culkin’s Edvard Munch scream more than anything else, he seemed to have dropped into 4th gear. He wrote more Home Alone movies. And the Beethoven series, under the pseudonym Edmond Dantes, which he borrowed from The Count of Monte Cristo. And live-action adaptations of Disney animated features that should’ve been left alone.

I don’t even want to talk about She’s Having a Baby or Baby’s Day Out.

My favorite things in John Hughes movies:

Matthew Broderick’s party in the street in Ferris Bueller.

The friendship between the uncool Mary Stuart Masterson and the very cool Eric Stoltz in Some Kind of Wonderful.

Some Kind of Wonderful

Some Kind of Wonderful

The scenes between Molly Ringwald and her struggling, probably alcoholic and unemployed dad, Harry Dean Stanton, in Pretty in Pink.

John Candy and Steve Martin, just trying to get home for Thanksgiving in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

And my absolute favorite, from The Breakfast Club: Ally Sheedy, head down and hunched over in the back of detention hell, draws a house and then, to add snow, shakes the dandruff out of her hair onto the paper.

John Hughes understood.

-Eleanor Ringel-Cater

Eleanor Ringel-Cater is an award-winning journalist who previously was the lead film critic for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  She currently reviews for The Daily Report and comments on films on WMLB AM 1690. She is a member of the National Society of Film Critics and FIPRESCI. She will be a regular contributor to the High’s film blog.