Tell me, what respectable movie about teenagers today is capable of having lines as immortal as this...?
“I do have a test today. That wasn’t bullshit. It’s on European Socialism. I’m not European. I don’t plan on becoming European. So who gives a crap if they’re socialists? They could be fascists anarchists, for all I care. It still wouldn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car... Not that I condone fascism. Or any ism. As John Lennon once said, ‘I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.’ Easy for him to say. He was the walrus. I could be the walrus, I’d still have to bum rides off people.”
That's part of a snappy opening monologue by the title character (played to hip perfection by the young Matthew Broderick, before he became Mr. Sex and the City -- which is really snarky of me to say, darn) from one of my favorite films of all time, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. This one's a film about a charming, happy-go-lucky high school slacker, his girlfriend and his uptight best friend as he takes them out to play hooky and go about Chicago on a gorgeous day.
But I seriously can't name a movie that has that kind of poetry, and yet remain accessible to the common young person -- the way it did me and other people my age.
The maker of that film, John Hughes, is dead today. With him died the most honest chronicler of my adolescence. Our adolescence -- or at least those of us who grew up in the 1980s and came of age in the early 1990s. Never mind that the teenagers he depicted were from a Chicago suburb, and I was a gangly boy from a tropical small city in the middle of a third world country. There was still something universal in the dilemmas that they faced, and the ways with which they dealt with them. Teenage stereotypes and the bond that unites them all? There's The Breakfast Club. Questions of social class and dating? There's Pretty in Pink. Teenage pregnancy? There's She's Having a Baby. Falling hormonally and realistically in love? There's Sixteen Candles. Harboring fantasies of banishing away your family? There's Home Alone (which he wrote and produced).
And so we elevated many of his films -- especially his early ones -- to cult-level status, to iconic (and much-quoted) milestones of culture, simply because, as one commenter in AwardsDaily put it very nicely, "he took us seriously instead of talking down to us, he understood the cliques we had to go through (as well as seeing past those cliques...), and he took our emotions about love and happiness seriously."
All teenage films since then has only the Hughes template to mind as the gold standard. Most pale in comparison, and even the best ones (like Jose Javier Reyes's Pare Ko, Mark Waters' Mean Girls, or Amy Heckerling's Clueless and Fast Times at Ridgemont High) are delightful, well-made, but haphazard approximations at best. (Only Cameron Crowe with Almost Famous, Singles, and Say Anything -- the latter, by the way, was produced by Hughes -- seems to be the rightful heir apparent, but still not in the same class.) The influence is daunting. Director Kevin Smith once famously said: "Basically everything I do is just a raunchy John Hughes movie."
See a good remix of the best clips from many of his films...
Better yet, rent every single one of his movies and (re)discover what it is (or was) to be young.
Read the New York Timesobituary. And read the tribute by film critic (and fellow Chicagoan) Roger Ebert. And back to the New York Times, read A.O. Scott's heartfelt and very intelligent appraisal, where he writes: "But I don’t think I’m alone among my cohort in the belief that John Hughes was our [Jean Luc] Godard, the filmmaker who crystallized our attitudes and anxieties with just the right blend of teasing and sympathy." Amen to that.
Read Molly Ringwald's appreciation of her old mentor here. An excerpt: "None of the films that [Hughes] made subsequently had the same kind of personal feeling to me. They were funny, yes, wildly successful, to be sure, but I recognized very little of the John I knew in them, of his youthful, urgent, unmistakable vulnerability. It was like his heart had closed, or at least was no longer open for public view. A darker spin can be gleaned from the words John put into the mouth of Allison in The Breakfast Club: 'When you grow up ... your heart dies.'"