Over the years, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Voice hasn’t been terribly kind to the late John Hughes—father of the modern teen dramedy and, a year after his death at age 59, the subject of a Lincoln Center retro-cum-eulogy-cum-Brat-Pack-reunion called “John Hughes: We Can’t Forget About Him.”
David Edelstein might’ve wanted to forget about the writer-producer-director when, in 1984, the then-Voice critic blew out Sixteen Candles in a single breath: “In his debut as an auteur, [Hughes] . . . creates an artificial universe, dictated by the snap judgments of an obnoxious teenage girl.” Barry Walters was equally expedient in his soiling of Pretty in Pink: “One would be better off buying the album and imagining the film.” Andrew Sarris, after coming out as a recovering Andy Hardy fan, summarily sent Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to detention: “If it weren’t so hopelessly trivial, it would be thoroughly hateful in its pandering to the worst impulses of young people.”
Dear John, wherever you are: We were wrong.
I should admit that I can’t really be objective. A tender, preppy, and suburban 16 when Candles bowed, I was the movie’s ideal viewer, along with my date, a non-obnoxious teenage girl who must’ve found a rare role model in Molly Ringwald’s crabby, crushed-out, and put-upon Samantha Baker. Hughes’s influence on American culture may be incalculably wide (far bigger than Juno’s tummy), but his single greatest achievement—and the one least copied these days—is having turned the young females of teen flicks from frosted-blonde girlfriends and gold-hearted whores into living and breathing protagonists. In the amazingly generous Candles, redhead Sam suffers dearly her petty humiliations and ultimately scores in true ’80s fashion, landing the cute guy with the red Porsche.
Hardly a survivor himself, Hughes directed only eight movies, all between ’84 and ’91; when the ’80s were over, so was he—at least as a filmmaker. Although the Salinger of cinema is talking even less now than he was when he was alive, one supposes he knew he was eternally tied to the Reagan era, and left Hollywood of his own volition, having successfully scrubbed the working-class grime off a genre that had favored Reckless and Fast Times.
Like the ’50s-derived Candles, but with more attitude, The Breakfast Club (1985) made the teen-angst genre safe for white suburban kids. That said, Hughes really did want to unify the school, with geek, princess, criminal, basket case, and jock getting all chummy over a joint fat enough for apolitical, self-engrossed Gen-X to welcome America’s new morning.
If only Hughes’s lonely teens could hook up across his oeuvre. Why do I think Matthew Broderick’s snotty Ferris Bueller is perfect for Ally Sheedy’s pre-makeover goth chick? Doesn’t Andrew McCarthy’s Pink boy really belong with Some Kind of Wonderful‘s Jon Cryer—or Candles‘ Long Duk Dong? Soon enough, some Final Cut Pro–equipped brainiac will come up with a meta-Hughes fan edit that’ll digitally recombine the director’s half-dozen narratives into one big, parents-outta-town orgy.
Meantime, the real-life Breakfast Club kids (minus Emilio Estevez) will put aside their differences to reunite for Lincoln Center’s offsite screening at the Paris Theater (September 20). Maybe the ’80s Voice critics could come and join the party? After all, even Edelstein—as if channeling Samantha’s sweetly apologetic dad—admitted last year in a New York blog obit that he was at least somewhat “wrong.” Seems Hughes, for his part, was right all along: Those wicked cliques were made to be broken.
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