“I bet you didn’t know Candace Cameron played the youngest sister?”
“Of course I knew that. Everyone knows that. Do you know who played the father?”
“Don’t mock me. John Ashton, Taggart from “Beverly Hills Cop,” the third finest bald character actor of all time. Can you tell me the name of Mary Stuart Masterson’s character?”
“For the love of god. I mean really. You actually think I wouldn’t know Watts? What is the matter with you? I was Watts. Tell me, who did Scott Coffey play?”
“The fact that you would even ask me that is ... completely … insulting … and … uh ...”
That was the moment I fell for Margie; when she stumped me in a “Some Kind of Wonderful” throwdown on our first date. (For those of you decaffeinated types like me, Coffey played Ray, the square-faced meathead who likes Watts).
Up until that point we had exchanged boilerplate get-to-know-you banter — “you have a sister? That’s amazing. So do I!” — but had yet to break through. Then somehow, lord knows how, we stumbled upon SKOW — one of Margie’s favorite acronyms — and boom, we were off. We became a couple for a while and it was great. All thanks to Hughes.
What ever happened to John Hughes?
And it got me thinking about him. Whatever happened to his career? Is he still writing movies? And how is it that a teen film of his from 1987 was able to bring together two lonely hearts in 2006?
So I went looking for an update. Didn’t find much. When it comes to interacting with the public, he’s gone the way of that other Hughes, Howard. He doesn’t give interviews and is content to live quietly with his family in Wisconsin.
One thing I did discover is that he has a story credit in a movie coming out on Friday, “Drillbit Taylor,” which is his first involvement in anything since 2003’s “Beethoven's Fifth.” This one is back in his wheelhouse: high school nerds hire a bodyguard, played by Owen Wilson, to protect them from bullies. He didn’t write the final script — Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen did — but still, it’s John Hughes and bullies. I’m there.
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It’s high time that Hughes career is re-evaluated. Putting aside his teen movies for a minute, just consider his straight comedies: the “Vacation” series, the “Home Alone” series, “Mr. Mom,” “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” “Uncle Buck.” That’s a lot of good stuff. (He also wrote a lot of crap — see: “Beethoven” I through V — but he succeeded more than he failed.)
But now add in his stunning achievement from 1984 to 1987. In those four years he wrote and often directed not one, not two, but six smart teen films — “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Weird Science,” “Pretty In Pink,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Some Kind of Wonderful” — five of which are pretty good (sorry, Kelly LeBrock) and three that have made a deep impact in our culture (“Club,” “Pink” and “Ferris”).
Is it me or does that get more impressive every year? I can’t think of another filmmaker who ever caught fire like that within a genre and within a compressed amount of time. Woody Allen maybe, in his “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” days. That’s about it. And we don’t exactly put Hughes on Allen’s level, do we? Allen has received 141 nominations from major film organizations for his work; Hughes has received one: in 1991, producer of the year by the ShoWest Convention. Talk about home alone.
Formula movies, memorable characters
Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings Granted, his movies mostly do tend to follow a formula: weirdos feel weird, girl likes boy, boy likes girl, parents are lame, rich people suck. But where he excelled was in creating lasting characters: Ferris, Farmer Ted, Duckie, Blane, Andie, Miss Amanda Jones, Cameron, Chet. If one measure of art is the level in which it stays with us, Hughes’ characters hold up.
Hughes never accepted the limitation that important drama couldn’t be told about adolescents. He tells Kevin Bacon in an extra released on the “Wonderful” DVD, “I’m just really true to those feelings. Amidst all your problems to have someone say, ‘When will you be home for dinner?’ Or not being given credit for the scope of the problem. ‘In three years you’ll laugh about it.’ Well, you’re not laughing about it now.”
Think of the transcendent moments he’s delivered: Estevez’s Andy expressing deep remorse over taping Larry Lester’s buns together; Ringwald’s Andie feeling shame about her house and refusing to let Blane see it; Ruck’s Cameron deciding to literally put his foot down and kick his dad’s Ferrari in Ferris. That’s the scene that still gets me. Alan Ruck’s triple chest pound to punctuate the words “never say anything” is as charged and shocking as the best work of Pacino, and I’ll stand on David Denby’s coffee table and say that.
You want another measure of Hughes’ achievement? How many thoughtful teen films have come out since he stopped making them? I can count four, and that’s generous: “Heathers,” “American Pie,” “Superbad,” “Juno.” And is anyone going to be arguing over the credits of “Superbad” in 20 years?
I don’t know if he has more teen stories to tell, or any stories for that matter. But if he wants to grab his Trapper Keeper and tell us what Farmer Ted or Cameron or Blane, or guys like them, guys like me, are up to, I’ll show up.
He deserves to be thought of as not just the maker of nice, lightweight comedies from the ’80s, but the maker of some of the best movies of the ’80s. In the simplest terms, in the most convenient of definitions, I’ve always considered him cinema’s equivalent to Brian Wilson, the pop genius who once called his music a “teenage symphony to God.” I can’t think of a better definition of Hughes’ hugely influential ’80s movies than that.
Adam Wahlberg thinks this essay has been “very hot! very hot!” He is the executive editor of Minnesota Law & Politics (“Only Our Name Is Boring”). You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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