Throwback Thursday: The John Hughes Conundrum

Throwback Thursday examines films from the past—typically “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important in some aspect.

I’ll admit it—I was born a child of the ’70s, with my coming-of-age years smack dab in the middle of the ’80s. This was arguably the pinnacle of teen movies, and a good chunk of those flicks were headed by one man: John Hughes. All told, he had a hand in six major teen flicks as either a writer or director, namely Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Some Kind of Wonderful.

These are the films from my childhood that helped shape what I thought high school would be like (even stressing me out because I was worried I might run into a shit-monster named Chet). However, I recently wondered to myself whether these films would hold up for other generations. Sure, they’re classics, but they’re very much a product of the ’80s, in fashion, in pop culture, in the troubling use of the awkward racist stereotypes—Gedde, I’m so sorry for Long Duk Dong—and rampant use of the term “faggot” that just wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) cut it today. Would they survive outside my generation, or is John Hughes just a footnote in teen culture never to be discussed again? I set out to re-watch them and find out.

Four of John Hughes’s films: Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink

Hughes’s four greatest!

The big theme running through all of these films is the male wish-fulfillment fantasy. In Weird Science, you have two geeks create the perfect woman to help them “mature”; in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off you have the epitome of the “cool” kid who is able to do whatever he wants; and Some Kind of Wonderful has the male protagonist who gets to date both the hot, rich girl and the best friend (taken straight from Archie Comics). Even in Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink, which were pretty much Molly Ringwald vehicles, you have pervasive male fantasies.

In Sixteen Candles, a whole subplot revolves around the Geek (Anthony Michael Hall), who tries to get with Ringwald’s character, Samantha. After that doesn’t work, the movie ends with him taking Caroline, girlfriend of Jake (Michael Schoeffling), home for the night. It should be noted that she is passed out for most of this, and they end up having implied sex off-camera that neither of them quite remember but that makes her fall for him. Okay, so maybe there’s more than just awkward racial stereotypes. What’s odd is that this is considered the Geek’s sign of passing into maturity: bedding a passed-out hot girl.

The theatrical release of Pretty in Pink isn’t as bad as that, but the original ending had Duckie (a wonderful Jon Cryer) end up with Andie (once again Molly Ringwald). The subtext here is that if you pine for a girl long enough, she will come around and be yours. Surprisingly, this is a case where studio interference actually helped a movie. Test audiences hated the original ending and wanted Andie to end up with the cute boy, Andrew McCarthy’s Blaine, so luckily, this actually became something of a feminist film. Andie gets to make her own decision on who she ends up with, and Duckie becomes the best friend who loves her so much he wants her to do what will make her happy. However, the male fantasy comes right after this tender moment. Spotting a hot blonde at the prom who is looking at him (a young Kristy Swanson), Duckie pops his collar, gives a wink to the audience—breaking the fourth wall with a sledgehammer—and goes to get the prop girl who has been given to him from on high.

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Wish-fulfillment fantasy at its finest.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved these movies, and still do, but looking back on them as an adult in the context of our current culture is definitely a different experience from watching them as a kid in the ’80s, and it highlights their faults. As mentioned at the start of this column, I recently re-watched these films, and I watched them with friends who had never seen them before. After viewing Pretty in Pink with a somewhat diverse group of Millennials, what did they have to say? The straight male loved it and thought the ending was perfect. The straight female really wanted Andie to end up with Duckie because he was just so gosh-darn cute. The gay male just wanted Duckie for himself.

But they all loved the film, which leads me to believe that it and John Hughes’s others do have an audience for future generations, even if they make sure you are aware of the inherent flaws from a much more innocent generation. For example, my friends did want to see more diversity. This might be one time where a remake isn’t completely out of line. We discussed in depth what a diverse re-casting of the Breakfast Club might look like and what they would talk about now. There is definitely knowledge and humor in the past, but there’s also hope for the future. And this still rings true:

Dear Mr. Vernon,

We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us . . . in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain . . . and an athlete . . . and a basket case . . . a princess . . . and a criminal. Does that answer your question?

Sincerely yours,
The Breakfast Club

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Wanted to get this in because I showed the other 5 posters and didn’t want Eric Stoltz to feel left out.

All of these John Hughes films can be found on Netflix and DVD. Feel free to discuss the films further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.

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