John Hughes died yesterday.
Last night, being bombarded with the fact when I went online, I needed to take a moment to stop and reflect upon the significance of the filmmaker that this man was.
Middle-aged, white, and relatively well-off in the ’80s, John Hughes made a series of films in the years before my birth that have factored so importantly into my non-white, not-so-well-off, and distinctly non-male character development that it’s actually a little bit embarassing.
In his construct of the ideal movie heroine (as portrayed by Molly Ringwald), I know that I was not the first person to find a blueprint for acting out my adolescence.
Hughes’ hand can be seen in most teen dramas produced since his era, most notably the films that glorify the misfit, defining their journey as the journey that matters the most in the end-all experience of high school. In John Hughes’ world, there does not exist a place beyond 12th grade. That might explain a lot of my eighteen-year-old panic when I embarked out into the real world, being finally without my most worthy frame of red-haired reference.
I see a lot of John Hughes in Can’t Hardly Wait and 10 Things I Hate About You. More recently, there is something very Hughesian about Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Charlie Bartlett and especially, so much, in Juno. The love and care that a filmmaker is willing to spend on a character wearing black and unhappy with the state of their surroundings. The willingness of writers and directors to help these characters find each other against all odds, and maybe be happy at the end of a 95-minute film for having discovered the other.
Last week, desperate for a Pretty In Pink afternoon, I was remarking to my mother about how strange that filmmaking fact still seems to me. In high school (even in the ’00s), it was the demands of the blonde and beautiful that proved to be the rule. The margins in the high school experience operated quietly and begrudgingly. We wrote blogs with awful poetry, tried to get as far away from the HS campus as humanly possible, and came home to John Hughes movies. Because in those movies, those margins were still the heroes. Even in The Breakfast Club, Allison Reynolds (as played by the amazing Ally Sheedy) proves to be way more badass than the simpering princess played by Molly Ringwald (though she is still an excellent dancer.) John Hughes took the time to spread the margins across the screen, showing them in full color and movie lighting, not without flaws but yet eventually reigning over their own experience.
I am forever grateful for these escapes into a world where the beautiful are ignored for the marginally attractive, and where Sam Baker actually gets a red-plaid wearing Jake Ryan in the end. It’s apparent to me that these films were those that paved the way for Lindsey on Freaks and Geeks and that Julia Stiles as ’90s riot grrrl Kat owes much more to Andie Walsh in Pretty In Pink than she does to even Shakespeare.
So, John Hughes. I watched his films last night, watched them this morning, and will watch them when I am finished writing this. Because, even a year and more away from the confines of my high school, I still need to be reminded that my experience was not singular–and that stuck in the freeze frame with Simple Minds blasting, the misfits and geeks and crazy kids are still much more happy than the beautiful and stupid ones. At least for that one moment.
10 Reasons The Films of John Hughes Cannot Fade Away