Category Archives: John Hughes Movies: Then and Now

John Hughes Movies: Then and Now – Some Kind of Wonderful

 

Some Kind of Wonderful End to This Series

by Robert Mishou

Here it goes – my last installment of looking back at the Big 5 John Hughes classics from the ‘80s. We’ve discuss (in chronological order) Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Pretty in Pink. Now it is time to close off the decade of Hughes with Some Kind of Wonderful.

THEN:

Of all of these films, this is the one that I remember the least – that I have the fewest recollections about. Some Kind of Wonderful was released almost exactly a year after Pretty in Pink, in February of 1987. The reason that this film escapes me a bit today is that in February of 1987 I was a senior at Frankfurt American High School in Frankfurt, (then) West Germany. I was dating and madly in love with my future wife, I was just accepted to the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and I was mentally preparing for my return to the United States after living overseas for the previous six years – so, pardon me for not remembering everything about the movie. I do remember seeing the teaser and loving it; it definitely made me excited to see the latest Hughes installment and is still one of my favorite teasers of all time.

 

 

I did go see it in the theater, but clearly my mind was other places because all really remember is someone playing drums, probably because of that teaser. I definitely recognized a few of the cast members like Lea Thompson from Back to the Future and I had read that Eric Stoltz was supposed to be Marty McFly, but was replaced by Michael J. Fox. Some Kind of Wonderful did not have the same lasting effect on me that the previous Hughes films had. I did catch it on cable a few times during college and I do remember liking it.

NOW:

Maybe it is because I have so few real memories of this film, but I really enjoyed watching it again. I did not come to it completely clean and unbiased, but it was the cleanest viewing of all of these Hughes’ films. While watching I was easily transported back to 1987 (the year is even uttered by Watts) and my own senior year in high school. Watching Some Kind of Wonderful this time made me believe that this was Hughes chance to retell Pretty in Pink. With some quick reading, you can find that Hughes’ original ending to Pretty in Pink had Andie leaving with Duckie, but due to test audience disapproval, the script was changed and Andie ends up with Blaine. I am perfectly fine with that ending, but Hughes must have been a bit unsatisfied and decided to make Some Kind of Wonderful with the ending he wanted.

The plots of the two films are similar. Both feature a very deep divide between classes. Those who have and those who have not do not get along. In Some Kind of Wonderful, regular, working class Keith (Eric Stoltz) has a major crush on Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson), who lives in Keith’s neighborhood, but hangs out with rich friends and is dating the ultra rich Hardy (Craig Sheffer). We have a conflict, which of course, needs some complication. Next we have Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), the drum playing tomboy who has been in love with Keith forever. All of this sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it? Andie has a crush on unattainable Blaine, but Duckie has been in love with Andie for years. Is Hughes just doing another Pretty in Pink? Maybe. Maybe there is a good reason to retell a the same story. There are a few differences: Some Kind of Wonderful takes place in California and the genders are all switched around. Hardy is as despicable as Steff and the main players are extremely likable in both films. Both have secondary characters who we pull for, both Watts and Duckie are easy to root for. Hughes’ major change here is the resolution. I think deep down that Hughes wanted Duckie to win – to get the girl. So in Some Kind of Wonderful, he does just that. Watts survives all of the trials of her relationship with Keith and, after Amanda pushes him to her, gets the guy.

While I believe that Duckie and Watts fulfill the same role, Watts is a more complete character. Watts is a legitimate tom boy who, while not completely fitting in, has more depth to her character than Duckie does. Duckie is quirky and funny, but his antics smack a little too much of desperation. Watts is also desperate, loving Keith from afar and never letting him know, hoping he would figure it out on his own, but I believe her more. Her character shows sincere talent with her ability on the drums; shows sincere longing through the way she looks at Keith; shows bravery when she is the driver for Keith and Amanda’s date; and shows honest emotion on her tear drenched face when she thinks she has lost Keith forever. Most importantly, Watts doesn’t need Keith to be a success in life, where Duckie may be nothing without Andie. I do wish the film showed her playing the drums more often, heck include the scene from the teaser in the movie. Watts is the most complete character in this film and in many ways makes the film worth watching.

Hardy. Hardy. Hardy. This completely despicable character is easily one of the worst guys to be present in a Hughes film. As much as I loathe Steff in Pretty in Pink, Hardy seems worse because he knows what he is doing and manipulates those around him. Hardy uses Amanda, lies to her, manipulates her, and then discards her (lucky for her!). He is used to getting what he wants – girls, cars, parties, whatever; he does not handle losing well at all. Hardy even resorts to setting up Keith by inviting him to a party at his house, all the time planning for his friends to jump Keith pummel the crap out of him. There is not a scene that has Hardy in it that reveals any sort of sympathy. He is a jerk when he pulls into the gas station that Keith works in to confront him about talking to “his girl” Amanda. He is a lying pig when, after hitting on another girl, he tells Amanda, “Trust is the basis for any relationship. I trust you.” Then puts a ring on her finger! He even has the audacity to say, “Well, this jealousy crap it getting a bit tedious.” At the end of the film, Hardy refuses to fight Keith himself. Instead, he will have his boys do it for him. I am not a fighting kind of guy, but if I could see Hardy I would seriously consider punching him in the face.

Usually I do not like situations where the threatened hero is saved by an unexpected source, but when Duncan appears at the party to help Keith, an enormous smile crosses my face – yes! Hardy gets what he deserves. Duncan is a rough, delinquent-type of student, not unlike The Breakfast Club’s John Bender, who plays the bully who scares and intimidates other students. Keith meets him in after school detention that he attends on purpose so he can see Amanda, who unbeknownst to Keith, has weaseled (and flirted) her way out of this punishment. Duncan and Keith strike up a friendships based on art the each is creating – Keith’s pencil on paper, Duncan’s knife on desk. This unlikely friendship surfaces a few times in the film and serves to not only help Keith, but to help the viewers smile and have faith that those with everything do not always win.

I believe Keith and the way that Stoltz plays him. I believe Watts and the way Masterson plays her. I hate Hardy because of the way Sheffer plays him. I love the end of Some Kind of Wonderful. Hughes’ films tend to have poignant endings:

Pretty in Pink: Jake: “Happy birthday, Samantha. Blow out the candles, make a wish.”

Sam: “it already came true.”

The Breakfast Club: the closing letter

Ferris Bueller: Ferris: “You’re still here? It’s over, go home. Go.”

Pretty in Pink: Blaine: “You told me you couldn’t believe in someone who did not believe in you. I always believed in you. You just didn’t believe in me. I love you.”

Duckie: “Andie, he came here alone. You’re right, he’s not like the others. If you don’t go to him now, I’m never going to take you to another prom ever again. . .”

These are all great, but the last lines of Some Kind of Wonderful really hit me:

Watts (putting in the earrings Keith gave her), “Well, how do they look?” Keith: “You look good wearing my future.” This is the perfect ending to a Hughes film that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of ‘80s film lore.

Here are the numbers. In order of box office receipts, here are how the Big 5 John Hughes films fared:

#1 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – $70,136,369

#2 The Breakfast Club – $45,871,171

#3 Pretty in Pink – $40,471,663

#4 Sixteen Candles – $23,686,027

#5 Some Kind of Wonderful – $18,553,948

Maybe we were tired of high school movies by the time Some Kind of Wonderful came along in 1987. Maybe we were tired of seeing the same faces inhabit the same halls. Maybe John Hughes had said all there was to say about being in high school in the ‘80s. For whatever reason, Some Kind of Wonderful took in the lowest amount at the box office, yet it may be one of the better views of high school in the ‘80s that Hughes created. While it does not meet the sophistication or depth of The Breakfast Club, nor does it have the humor of Sixteen Candles or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful deserves it place in the canon of films made about high school in the 1980s. If you have not seen it for a while, or have never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it – you will not regret it.

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John Hughes Movies: Then and Now – Pretty in Pink

Isn’t She Pretty in Pink

by Robert Mishou

We are all, unfortunately, becoming way too used to the phrase “30th anniversary of . . .” Anything that was released in 1986 is now thirty years old! As much as this hurts, it also makes me happy to know that I grew up in a decade that was iconic enough to have the public take note when movies, television shows, or music released during the decade has an “anniversary.” DO NOT go and look at a list of what was released in 1986 – don’t! It’s just too depressing.

In February of 1986, Molly Ringwald teamed up again with John Hughes for a new movie, Pretty in Pink. This is the fourth of five Hughes films that ruled the decade. I was in the second half of my junior in high school, but already thinking of being a senior and trying to decide what to do after that.

THEN:

Because I lived on an Army base in Germany, my friends and I had to wait for new releases to make it to the military movie theaters. The movies typically arrived a few months after U.S. release, but typically beat VHS release. About the time school was finishing that Spring, we hit the Idle Hour movie theatre eager to see Pretty in Pink. My two best friends and I were huge Hughes fans. We loved Sixteen Candles – were blown away with The Breakfast Club – and tolerated Ferris Buller’s Day Off. We felt extremely confident that Pretty in Pink would not disappoint.

It did not! I was immediately drawn into the class conflict that the film centers around. In a different way, we were faced with a similar situation. We were NCO (non commissioned officers) kids and had a negative view a many Officer’s kids. We thought that they got everything because their fathers were higher rank than ours were. So seeing Andie’s and Duckie’s struggle with Steff and Blane because of economics really resonated with us. That aside, I was a little in love with Molly Ringwald and any character she played was fine by me. I remember the story being a straight-forward love story with cool ancillary characters and an ending that I felt was “as it should be” – Andie is able to make Blane overcome the socio economic pressures persuading him to not like her and they WILL live happily ever after.

As much as I enjoyed the movie, the soundtrack is what I remember the most. There is no hyperbole in saying that it was, by far, my favorite soundtrack of the ‘80s. I am still a bit surprised because my typical music choices tend to bit more guitar based rock. I loved this soundtrack so much that I am going to stop talking about it and so a completely separate article on it (I’ll start it as soon as this Hughes series is complete).

NOW:

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way – I still really enjoy this movie! The one thing that jumped out at me on this viewing was the cast. Pretty in Pink was not the last stop for any of these actors. I am not saying that everything they did after this movie was great, but they were working! Some continued with the almost adult characters like Andrew McCarthy and James Spader in Less Than Zero and Jon Cryer in Hiding Out. Molly Ringwald has been able to take a variety of roles in television and movies including a small part in Not Another Teen Movie, poking a little fun a the films that made her famous. Pretty in Pink is not an end to any of their careers, in fact, all of them continue to grow as performers and play better roles showing that Pretty in Pink cannot be considered a climax to any of their careers.

The opening sequences immediately reminds me of how great the music is. The Psychedelic Furs belt out “Pretty in Pink” right away as the camera pans across the lower economic part of town across the tracks – it literally shows train tracks – where Andie lives. This sets up the film length conflict and the source for most of the characters’ angst. The two groups of people, rich and poor, fill the screen in nearly all of the opening scenes. Either through visuals, costumes, or settings, the struggle between the haves and the have nots is readily apparent. The house that Andie lives in with her father, who she is desperately trying to get out of bed and to a job interview, is quickly followed by an uncomfortable classroom scene where a few of the rich girls cruelly criticize Andie’s clothing choice. The American history teacher notices the discord and justifiably punishes the wealthy instigators. The conflict intensifies when Andi denies the problem and asks for the punishment to be removed. The snotty girls smugly accept the punishment, making Andie feel worthless in the eyes of the rich – not for the last time. Hughes really hits us over the head with the importance of these social classes by bouncing between rich and poor sub-settings. These quick changes helps us “feel” the division among the characters and heightens the effect of the relationship that we know is coming between Andie and Blane.

This is the crux of the film, isn’t it? Relationships. Duckie is in love with Andie. Steff and Blane are having a falling out. Andie and Blane fall for each other. It is these relationships that drawn us in – that we connect to and that keep us going.

Andie and Duckie: Many of you have read that the original script had Duckie showing up at prom to save Andie and she chooses him. While this would be a perfect ending for Duckie, test audiences didn’t like it, so it was changed and the ending became what we know know it is, Andie and Blane overcoming their differences and getting together. While I feel for Duckie and even relate to him a bit, I now find his schtick a bit annoying. I admire his persistence and think the scene with the bouncer (played by Andrew Dice Clay) not letting him into the club is funny and played in a natural and believable manner by both actors. Despite this, I think his antics do border on stalking. We have all pined for someone, most of us for someone who was unattainable, but there is no great reason for Andie to choose Duckie. She is an intelligent young woman who is going to get an education and work her way out of the financial wasteland that her father has never been able to imagine a way out of. As harsh as it is, Duckie is a dead end for her. Yes, they are best friends, but she cannot spend the rest of her life with him and expect to change her situation. One evening she is helping Duckie study for a test. Andie is explaining the Warsaw pact to an completely uninterested Duckie. As he is dancing in her mirror, she reads his answer: “The Warsaw Pact is a pact that is named after Warsaw.” He is unconcerned; he takes this whole thing as a joke. Andie throws a little psychology at him and suggests he is failing his classes on purpose so he does not have to face the future. Duckie becomes defensive – but it is true, Duckie cannot imagine a world without Andie, but knows it is going to end soon and there is little he can do about it. Duckie is in a difficult situation, but he is not facing it nor is he trying to find a viable solution. Andie cannot be with him as a serious boyfriend. But, man, do I admire him taking on Steff at school after he overhears him in the stairwell with Blane.

Blane and Steff: As much as we like Blane, we hate Steff. We admire Blane for trying to break away from his pretentious, rich friends and find his liking of Andie sincere. It is all of this potential in Blane that make Steff his antithesis and the antagonist of this film. Steff’s hypocrisy is clear when he, once again, hits on Andie and, when refused, says, “You bitch.” Steff even confronts Blane at school over his liking Andie. During their uncomfortable first date, Blane takes Andie to a party at Steff’s. Expectedly, Andie receives condescending looks from most of the “richies” and feels out of place. To escape the stares, Blane innocently takes Andie to an upstairs bedroom. Unfortunately, there is a drunk Steff and Benny in the room. Benny, who is slyly nasty to Andie earlier in history class and P.E., is now openly hostile to Andie and to Blane for having Andie with him at the party. Later, while doing cocaine, Steff confronts Blane about this:

Steff: I thought that was very uncool of you last night, Blane.

Blane: What?

Steff: What?

Blane: Do you mean Andie?

Steff: I mean Andie.

Blane: What’s the big deal? I like her. As a matter of fact, I was pissed off at you guys

for being so nasty to her.

Steff: It was way out of order for you to foist her on the party . . . What do I have to spell it out for you, Blane? Nobody appreciates your sense of humor. As a matter of fact, everyone is about to puke from it. If you got a hard on for trash, don’t take care of it around us, pal.

This from your best friend! We have no problem with Blane leaving Steff and this crowd behind; we only wonder what took so long. Once again, props to Duckie for laying a few punches on Steff!

Andie and Blane: There is no reason for these two to be together. They are from different sides of the track, have different friends, and have little in common. Blane is brave enough to step beyond the confines of expectations of his rich friends and ask Andie out on a date. His best friend, Steff, notices his behavior and calls him on it when he sees him coming in from the ‘other’ side. He is taking offense at Blane wanting to go outside of his kind and be with Andie (who has repeatedly rebuked his advances). Blane is well aware of what his friends will think and receives harsh treatment from Duckie as well while they are all at the club. I, like most of you, was upset with Blane when he seemingly succumbed to the pressure and lied to Andie about having another prom date. The economic differences are between Blane and Andie are clear and constantly compounded, and it is because of these stark differences that we pull for them – not unlike we pull for Romeo and Juliet. Just because a love is forbidden or unaccepted does not mean it cannot, or should not happen. Neither side accepts those from the other side: the rich do not like the poor and have unfounded biases towards them AND the poor do not accept the rich and have unfounded biases toward them. Clearly, both sides are unbudging and short sighted. This is the very reason that we want Andie and Blane to work. We know that most of the characters around these two are self centered, egotistical, and difficult to like. This lack of likable characters only heightens our desire to see Andie and Blane conquer the prejudices and find a way to get together and stay together. We are just as happy when Andie kisses Blane for the first time after he asks her to the prom as we are when Sam kisses Jake over the birthday cake he made her. In short, we want them to work and believe they can work.

The ancillary characters are perfect in this movie. The music is outstanding. The conflict is real. Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, and Jon Cryer are excellent. I love his movie.

Pretty in Pink may not be the perfect movie and I like The Breakfast Club better, but it owns a rightful spot in the canon of ‘80s films. The class struggle is a bit overdone, but it is real and still exists in many towns and high schools today. I am not sure that American society will even honestly be able to move past these economic class structures. The pressures placed by both sides on members of their own group are difficult to overcome, but they can be conquered. It is this belief that love can overcome such profound obstacles that keeps us going – it keeps us going to the movies – it keeps us reading the books and plays – it keeps us believing that love can overcome any petty obstacle that it encounters. Pretty in Pink left me with positive (and a bit Romanticized) memories of my past. I still really like this installment of the Hughes canon.

Next, one left, Some Kind of Wonderful.

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John Hughes Movies: Then and Now – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Still Kinda Ify

by Robert Mishou

Here is the third installment of the John Hughes Big Five. If you remember, I am rewatching these films and comparing my present view of the film to what I thought when I first saw them when I was in high school. Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club have been covered, leaving Hughes third high school film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off up next.

THEN:

I clearly remember being excited to see Hughes latest film in the theater with my best friends. The three of us waited in a long line, full of excitement, ready to see Matthew Broderick (who we loved in War Games). I feel a need to apologize to all of those Ferris fans out there – I did not like this movie when I first saw it in 1986. I know, I know, and I do not expect this to be a popular view, but I am striving for honesty in all of my looks back to the ‘80s.

As I have mentioned before, I am an extremely happy, eager-to-go-work high school English teacher. I love working with teens everyday and I love helping them become better readers and writers and preparing them for college. I decided to become an English teacher during my sophomore year of high school. I think I am hard wired to really like school; I have always enjoyed and still do. This is going to sound like a bit of a fib, but I never missed school, never got a detention, and never got sent to the principal’s office. I got along great with most of my teachers and love going to school every day. Call me weird if you want, but it is in my bones. This is most likely the reason I did not like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off very much. I was nothing like Ferris and I could not understand (or accept) his NOT wanting to be at school. Because of this I did not like his antics and I refused to relate to any of the characters, nor did I want to. About half way through the film I started to purposefully look for things not to like about it. I did not hate the film, but I felt it represented things so unlike me that tried not to like it. My view of Hughes had taken a serious hit – after loving Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club how could he do this to me? Come on, John, don’t disappoint me like this – please!

NOW:

I’ve thought long and hard about this. I’ve watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off a few times before even attempting to write this. Have I mentioned that I’ve thought long and hard about this? The things I did not like about the movie then, I still do not like now. Ferris is a superficial, dishonest character for whom I cannot – and will not – feel any sort of sympathy. He is manipulative and barely feigns any sort of real interest in Sloane or Cameron. He does not seem to really even care about them until it is almost too late. So long as he is saved, no one else really matters.

But wait. I have found something redeemable, something that saved the movie for me this time. In fact, I am not sure how I missed this years ago – color me embarrassed.

Cameron (played by Alan Ruck) saves this film.

I do not care if he looks old enough to be a college graduate. I do not care if he is from a rich family and has no financial struggles. I do care about him. As little as a I care about the fate of the almighty Ferris, I am completely drawn in by Cameron’s struggles. We never see Cameron’s parents. . . because they are not involved with his life. The movie cannot be called Cameron’s Day Off because this implies that someone cares about him. As Ferris devises clever ways to avoid parental detection, Cameron only wishes someone would pay some sort of positive attention to him. Cameron seems forced to follow Ferris’s silly whims because at least Ferris pays attention to him. Yes, Cameron’s house is huge, as is the glass structure that houses the really, really expensive car are kept in it, but this can never be a substitute for a concerned family. In essence, despite the presence of Sloane and Ferris, Cameron is utterly alone.


In an early scene, Ferris call up a hypochondriac Cameron, seemingly showing concern. Then Ferris explains that he is taking a day off and so should he. The purpose quickly turns selfish when Ferris says, “I’m sorry to hear that, now come over here and pick
me up”. While Ferris feigns interest in Cameron’s well being, it quickly turns into self centered concern to be sure that someone else is complicit with his skipping school. Is this what is best for Cameron? Maybe, but it is clearly what is best for Ferris’s desires. Now, Ferris does express some concern for Cameron’s future, worried about how his college roommate-to-be will view him. I do sense that Ferris is a little worried about Cameron, but is clearly unable to show it in a purposeful manner. Ferris’s selfish concerns surface again almost immediately. When cajoling Cameron and trying desperately to get him st skip school with him, Ferris says, “Cameron, this is my ninth sick day, if I get caught, I won’t graduate.”

We all know that Ferris is successful and gets Cameron to skip school with him. Despite knowing how precious that expensive car is to Mr. Frye, Ferris talks Cameron into letting them take the fancy and really expensive red sports car. Yes, Cameron’s father is clearly hung up on material possessions to help show his worth and, while that may be wrong, Ferris forces Cameron into doing something that would make matters at home even worse. I know absolutely nothing about cars, but even in high school I knew you could not drive backwards to get the miles off. On the way home from a great day in Chicago – a part of the film I really enjoyed, Ferris glances at the odometer and asks Cameron how many miles the car had when the left. True to Cameron’s fearful nature he says, “A hundred and twenty-six and halfway between three and four tenths.” As the audience is shown the odometer, we see that it now reads, “Three hundred – one and seven tenths.” Ferris, having a complete understanding of Cameron’s life and fears, (once again) breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience, “Here’s where Cameron goes berserk.” Naturally he does. The thing I struggle with is that Ferris, agree with it or not, fully understands the home life that Cameron is daily faced with and still insists on him to take this enormous risk. Cameron does go a bit crazy. It takes the next few scenes and him falling off of the diving board into a pool for us to fully realize how afraid he is. During these catatonic scenes, Ferris admits to us that he is the one feeling nervous about moving on after graduation. He and Cameron will not see each other much and Sloane is a junior and will still be in high school next year. What is Ferris going to do? I care more about what Cameron is going to have to face at home when his father finds out about the car, not Ferris’s, once again, selfish worries.

All of this does lead to a climax for Cameron and my favorite part of the movie. This scene is not only the best of the movie, it nearly redeems the entire thing. Forgotten are the flimsy plot conventions, the shallow characters, and the overused comedy tropes. When Ferris fails to remove the miles from the car by propping it up and running it in reverse, Cameron is forced to come to terms with the repercussions of taking the car. In what is by far the most passionate speech of the film, Cameron says:

My old man pushes me around. I never say anything. Well, he’s not the problem, I’m the problem. I gotta take a stand. I gotta take a stand against him. I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m gonna take a stand. I’m going to defend it – right or wrong – I’m going to defend it. I’m so sick of his shit. I can’t stand him and I hate this goddamn car. Who do you love? You love a car! . . . When he comes home he’ll have to deal with me. I don’t care, I really don’t. I’m just tired of being afraid.

Now, if you remember, after a few hard kicks to the front bumper, the car is knocked off of the jack, hits the floor, and flies out of the window and down about two hundred feet – completely destroyed. What I love here is that this scene clearly defines Cameron as a dynamic character (one who undergoes a significant change). He is the only one in the film as all of the others are static and never come to any true change on self actualization. I have no idea what will happen when Mr. Frye comes home – none of us do and it may be bad, but Cameron has taken an important step in becoming the adult that he will be for the rest of his life. He is now going to be in control of his life and not run away from what it has to offer. Cameron is probably going to go away to college and not come back home. I believe he will be a success because he will face what he most fears and come away from it a better, more capable person. I am not sure I can say the same about Ferris.

I do not hate Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I like the pacing of it and I love Ben Stein as the teacher who constantly says, “Anyone, anyone” when no one answers. So saying, I still do not really like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I feel that John Hughes took a step backwards from The Breakfast Club to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. What I do realize now, though, is that Cameron Frye is clearly one of the best characters that John Hughes has created. I will maintain that this is my least favorite Hughes film, but I have come to have a deep appreciation for what he has done with this excellent character.

Coming soon: Pretty in Pink.

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John Hughes Movies: Then and Now – The Breakfast Club

Hey Everybody, it’s time for another installment of Robert’s series John Hughes Movies: Then and Now. Today, he is covering one of the ultimate ’80s movies – The Breakfast Club. Personally, The Breakfast Club is one of those movies that I stop to watch if I’m flipping through the channels, and watch it the rest of the way through, even though I already know this movie pretty much by heart. Send us your thoughts about this movie, by emailing us at Returnto80s@gmail.com. Now, let’s see what Robert has to say about this classic movie.

The Breakfast Club: A Play Disguised as a Movie

by Robert Mishou

I am ready for the second installment of my (re)look at John Hughes’s Big Five films; next up, The Breakfast Club. This is another film that I had to wait for a VHS copy to watch. In 1985 I was not quite old enough to see a Rated R film in a theater, so I was forced to impatiently wait until I acquired a copy.

THEN:

I clearly remember watching The Breakfast Club many, many, many times – and liking it more with each viewing. I also clearly remember my two best friends loving this movies as well. As fate and timing would have it, those two best friends and I were together last week. They drove from Louisville to Nebraska to attend the wedding of my oldest son. The younger of my friends, Marvin (who is kind enough to read all of these posts) was reading the Sixteen Candles article and we started talking about all of the Hughes films. We quickly got to The Breakfast Club, and he told me it was his favorite and that he has probably watched it over one hundred times! So saying, I have decided to “include” him in my reflections.

There was nothing about this movie that Marvin did not like. I do not need to say much more because he really does absolutely love it. He can recall and quote any line – I mean, any line. As we were watching it again on the Sunday after the wedding, he was whispering the lines as the characters were saying them. Color me impressed. I, too, really liked The Breakfast Club when I was in high school. I was drawn in by the characters. I found that I could relate to something in each of them. While I was not a complete jock, brain, criminal, princess, or basket case, each one of these characters said or felt something that I too felt or wanted to say. The Breakfast Club only strengthened my belief that Hughes was making movies with characters that truly represented what teenagers were thinking, feeling, and experiencing at the time. Because The Breakfast Club had a different tone and feel to it when compared to Sixteen Candles, in 1985, I liked The Breakfast Club more.

NOW:

“You couldn’t ignore me if you tried.” This is one of the criminal’s, John Bender, many great lines in The Breakfast Club. This lines also represents the way I feel about this movie after watching several times over the last week. Watching this film in my (almost) forty-seven year old mind and body, I found that I could not pull my eyes or attention away from it. That does happen with other movies, but it is usually for nostalgic reasons. That is not the case here. I was completely drawn into each of the characters as individuals. I did have a bit of the ‘wishing I was back in high school’, but I found that I was compelled by each of these students’ backgrounds, reason for being in Saturday school, and home lives. I still could relate to pieces of each of them, but not one complete character. I also donned my teacher classes and thought about students I have had in my twenty-four years of being a high school English teacher; man did Mr. Vernon make some serious mistakes. I know this is only the second Hughes film that I am reexamining, but I think this is his best one. The Breakfast Club is a mature look at five high schoolers by a writer/director who has a keen sense of what is is like to be a teeneger and all of the struggles that they go through. It is an unflinching examination that is a bit comedic, but has a clear sense of character and drama.

The first thing that jumped out at me during my recent viewings is that The Breakfast Club is a play. It has all of the conventions that most plays do and would fit perfectly on a stage. The film is bookended in the parking lot where parents drop off and pick up their students. The rest of the film takes place inside of Shermer High School, mostly in the library. There are a few subsettings such as the hallways and a small room where Bender is kept as punishment, but these serve only to add a little variety. The library itself is also broken into several sub settings to help a too limited set. The conflict is simple and there is not much actual action in this movie, which serves to provide the real focus – that of characterization. The conflict is a clear one; five high school students are serving a Saturday detention at their school for a variety of misbehaviors. Nearly all of the action consists of the students talking, arguing, and laughing their way through a boring day while revealing and discovering things about themselves and each other. Honestly, nothing really ‘happens.’ The movie consists of a series of conversations among the five with an occasional diversion being supplied by two adults in the building, Mr. Vernon, who is in charge of the detention, and Carl, a custodian. This film would fit perfectly on a stage and it’s true strength comes from the round, dynamic characters and the insights Hughes offers about teenagers.

With the setting being very limited, Hughes is able to put complete focus on developing the five main characters: the jock, Andy; the princess, Claire; the brain, Brian; the basket case, Allison; and the criminal, Bender. I was completely wrapped up in all five of these characters and found myself completely wrapped up in each. All five come into the detention with their own selfish understanding of their world and leave with a better understand of themselves and some of those around them. Since the focus of Hughes’ classic is characterization, I will spend a little time showing how each begins as a non descript stereotype and ends a fully developed, round character who elicits our sympathies and reflects, in some respects, what we (once) were.

The jock, Andy: He begins as the stereotypical athlete who is more concerned about his sport, in this case wrestling, than he is about school or other non athletes. He has received his detention for tapeing together the butt cheeks of another student in school; the tape ripped off the boy’s hair and some skin. The reason Andy gives for committing this belittling offense is that he wants to impress his father, who did these sort of things when he was in high school. Yes, Andy did it, but his greater fault is caving into the expectations of those around him and trying to please his father who is putting undo pressure on him to get a wrestling scholarship. Over the course of the movie, we see how much Andy regrets hurting and embarrassing this boy. He shows true growth by having compassion for fellow Saturday schoolers, Allison. Andy begins his detention experience with threats, jokes, and disdain for those not like him and ends as a compassionate athlete who seems to respect those clearly different than himself.

The princess, Claire: She begins as the stereotypical spoiled girl who is pretty, rich, and usually gets what she wants. She has received her detention for skipping school to go shopping. I do not think she sees too much wrong with doing this, and she clearly admits to playing her parents against each other for her own selfish benefit. She is pretty and dresses well, but does suffer from her own pressure of feeling obliged to do what her friends want her do and think as they think. Her major foil and adversary is Bender who continually calls her on her clothes, money, and even her lunch (sushi). I like her character because she fully admits that there are clear groups in school and that they cannot openly mix. In a tense scene, she even tells Brian that she will probably not talk to him in the halls on Monday. As hurtful as that is, she does have a firm hold on the expectations that are placed on all of them. She does grow and change a bit. She learns to defend herself (verbally) against Bender and the others and, while working hard to justify her behaviors, She also learns to understand the point of view of others and even accepts Bender as the intriguing bad boy – although it may be only to irritate her parents.

The brain, Brian: He is the stereotypical geek who is a concerned student who wants to do well in school. He has received detention for bringing a gun to school. Yes, it was a flare gun, but . . . Brain is contemplating suicide because he failed an assignment in shop class and it will hurt his GPA. He is a scared, physically weak, but intelligent character who learns to speak his mind and confront the others about their beliefs. I am not sure he is able to fully accept his failure, but he gains confidence and leaves the library with a better awareness of the pressures he is subject to.

The basket case, Allison: She is the stereotypical strange girl who struggles fitting into any group. She is a kleptomaniac and a compulsive liar who serves to challenges the others and get them to admit some things that are unwilling to. She admits to being alienated from her parents and had even volunteered to be at Saturday school! She and Claire become friends and she even allows Claire to give her a makeover. This alone shows her growth; she has never been accepted by others because she has not truly accepted others.

The criminal, Bender: I see him as the true protagonist of this film. While nearly equal time is spend on all five of the characters, most of the action is push forward by him. He comes from the toughest of homes. While Allison feels ignored by her parents, Bender is verbally and physically abused by his father. Bender uses sarcasm to hide his own fears; he criticises what he cannot have or what he cannot be. He pushes Mr. Vernon by getting into power struggles with him, with bad language, by sneaking out of the library, and with a complete lack of respect for authority of any kind. Despite believing that he has nothing in common with the others, “I don’t even speak your language,” he willing sacrifices himself when the five are going to get caught wandering the hallways. Bender has a clear soft side when he subtly reveals that he wants to be accepted by the others. He is honest, confrontational, and a bit dangerous, but he is loyal and we are left with a sense that he will look out for the others in the future.

The true strength of this film lies in this characterization. Hughes does not allow himself to create flat characters in The Breakfast Club. Instead he digs in and shows what teens struggle with. All five of these teens are real – real people dealing with real pressures and really learning how to get along with others in the world they are about to be thrust into. I feel very comfortable in calling The Breakfast Club a classic. It is not a classic of just the teen movie genre. John Hughes has pushed the boundaries of the typical, safe and, at times, vulgar teen film. By doing so he has created a truly classic film that will never fully leave my conscious.

Marvin STILL loves it.

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John Hughes Movies: Then and Now – Sixteen Candles

Hey Gang, Here is Robert’s first article in his new series, John Hughes Movies: Then and Now. Feel free to email us at Returnto80s@gmail.com to send us a message about your experience with Sixteen Candles. Do you like it as much now as you did when you first watched it? In the meantime, enjoy this article!


My First John Hughes Film Experience: Sixteen Candles

by Robert Mishou

I did not see this film in the theaters. Remember, I spent most of the ‘80s on a military base in Frankfurt, Germany. I vaguely recall that Sixteen Candles did run in the American theaters for a week, but it did not come to any of the German theaters (and I wouldn’t have gone there anyway because the movies were dubbed into German). I first saw this classic on VHS; it was one of the tapes that made it’s way around all of the American kids’ households, being copied and copied, and copied. My friends and I watched it dozens of times and I added a few dozen more watches on my own.

THEN:

My recollections as a fifteen year old high school sophomore (yes, I love Farmer Ted’s line, “fully aged sophomore meat!”): I loved Sixteen Candles. I thought it was a funny film full of characters that I knew from my own high school experiences. I laughed, I cringed, I hoped – I felt like I was in the movie with Samantha, Jake, and Farmer Ted. This was one of the first movies where I felt that I was not being talked down to. Hughes spoke to me like someone who understood what I saw and went through on a daily basis. The conflicts were real, if a bit exaggerated, and I could relate to how the characters were feeling. I could not say that I completely related to any of the characters, but I did care about them. I was no Jake Ryan, but I did have a bit more in common with Farmer Ted. I was not as daring as the rest of those teens at the party and I believed that there was someone like Samantha out there (and yes, I hoped to find her).

I loved Sixteen Candles so much that it guaranteed that I would never miss any film that John Hughes was a part of making. Many of you would probably agree that Hughes’s films helped us grow up. As his characters aged, we aged right with them. They, in a way became our friends, too. Sixteen Candles was the beginning of my journey through teenagehood with someone who understood what I was thinking, feeling, and struggling with.

NOW:

No panicking here – I still love Sixteen Candles. While I do see a few things differently, I think the film still holds up as a pretty accurate portrayal of teenage life. It is funny in a completely non serious fashion and is a fitting example of the late John Hughes’s masterful way of speaking to an adult audience about teens in the ‘80s and to teens about themselves. My adult self overwhelming enjoyed the nostalgia of watching Sixteen Candles several times over the past week. I really enjoyed watching it with my own children (12 and 15); they loved the movie, which made me feel a bit more justified and not so aged and out of touch, like an old dog who cannot move past the days his glory days who prefers to live in his past. Vindication! While I still like Sixteen Candles – a lot, the reasons have changed a bit. I no longer look at the film as I did in those year of thoughtless youth. I can see the changes within myself and I am fine with those changes. I see the plot as a romance now, not the reality of teenage drama as I once believed. In addition, the setting is pretty dang ideal and a bit idealistic. Finally, the characterization, while good, is not very ambitious.

John Hughes has been known for being able to delve into the lives of teens and give the world a realistic perspective on how teens live. I fully agree with this, but this comes in his later films, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful, – it not here yet in Sixteen Candles. Samantha Baker pining for the unattainable Jake Ryan is intriguing and something most of us have gone through. I fully remember mine. Let’s call her L.K. (name withheld to protect the innocent). L.K. was gorgeous. She was tall and blond and athletic, and had beautiful blue eyes – those eyes! She was also very popular and an officer’s kid which meant that I had absolutely no chance. The fact that I was incredibly shy, had zero confidence, and could never actually speak to her or look her in the eyes may have damaged my chances of ever asking her out. I was Samantha Baker, just not with Ringwald’s red hair. Sixteen Candles is a complete Romance. Now, let me define the word “Romance” in a literary sense. I typically go to a trusted English professor’s website (Dr. Wheeler’s Website) for these types of things, and he clearly distinguishes the types of Romance – and there are several – and defines a modern Romance as a story where a young woman falls for a man who is somewhat unattainable and, “The two are prevented from forming a relationship due to social, psychological, economic, or interpersonal constraints. The primary plot involves the two overcoming these constraints through melodramatic efforts. The story conventionally ends happily with the two characters professing their love for each other and building a life together.” Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? So many popular movies are based on this, that I personally get a bit weary of it and tend to be too critical of these plot conventions. But it does work. Despite all of the issues, both major and minor, we hope beyond all hope that Sam will find a way to get Jake to pay attention to her. We agonize and cringe over the embarrassing note/sex survey that unintentionally falls into Jake’s hands. We appreciate Sam’s irritation that turns into sympathy for Farmer Ted as she tries to help him out by giving him her “undies.” We absolutely gush when, as the crowd disperses after the wedding, Jake is standing there waiting to talk to Sam. I am not sure that there is a more satisfying ending than having Jake and Sam kissing over the birthday he has for her while the Thompson Twins croon the now classic lines of “If You Were Here“. I call Sixteen Candles a Romance not as a criticism, rather as a appreciative term of endearment.

In addition to this being a Romance, most of John Hughes films are set in or around Chicago. Sixteen Candles is not different and it remains firmly planted in a typical American suburb. Sixteen Candles is set in a suburb that is more than typical, it is ideal. Every scene is exactly what you would expect to see in a film that is not, should not, and has no reason to be concerned with the “where” it all happens. The film is character and plot driven, so the setting becomes completely secondary. I like this and it is not the case with the other Hughes films; in The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful the setting become much more important. Sixteen Candles is full of, what has become, enviable images of suburbia: clean, neat neighborhoods lined with lush green trees and grass, uncrowded streets free from dense traffic and choking car exhaust, and spacious schools that are orderly and graffiti free. Go back and look at Jake Ryan’s house and the cars parked all over for the party – clearly there are plenty of affluent residents in this neighborhood – who, I might add, are doing a terrible job at watching of the Ryans’ house while they are out of town, or do not mind the occasionally loud, wild party. I have no criticisms here just an observation that I did not make when I was fourteen: this was a pretty dang nice place to live.

The setting is what it is, so this last part will seem more like I am being too critical of Sixteen Candles, but it will fit the idea of a Romance perfectly. The characterization is not very ambitious. Sixteen Candles is full of stock, flat characters that are underdeveloped. I firmly believe that they are underdeveloped because they need no development – we already know them! There is not a character in this film who is not typical (and therefore, a stock character). Here is what we have:

Jake Ryan, the handsome, rich, athletic type
Samantha Baker, the cute, innocent, newly sixteen heroine
Farmer Ted, the geek who finds a way into our sympathetic hearts
Caroline, the beautiful, rich prom queen
Long Duk Dong the exchange student
Intrusive grandparents
Snotty older sister who believes she deserves everything

The list goes on; the rest of the film is full a great minor characters who round out a typical high school – or high school film. It all works. We know them because we went to school with people like these characters, or we were these characters. One huge difference in my own views on these characters is with Long Duk Dong. In my former innocent, unaware days I saw him as one of the funniest parts of Sixteen Candles. Now, that has changed dramatically. Long Duk Dong is an offensive stereotype that propagates a completely unfair, inaccurate, and insensitive view Asians. I am unable to defend the use of this stereotypical portrayal, even in a comedy. Unfortunately, these stereotypes exist in many forms pop culture and have had some long lasting negative effects. I am an enormous proponent of using literature, be it written or any other medium, to help end stereotypes like this, rather than enhance them.

The theme of this and the forthcoming musing on the Big Five John Hughes films is to track changes – changes in me. I want to reflect on these films through my eyes as a teen who saw them the first time and as an adult who is watching them again. As I suggested in the short introductory article a few weeks ago, I am coming to terms with the idea that I am not the same person I was in the ‘80s. I have had many experience since then and I my worldview has changed in some ways. Sixteen Candles is a film I enjoyed in 1984 and still do today. It is not the perfect view of high school that I once thought it was, but it is what I wish it could be like. Sixteen Candles is a romantic fantasy that most of us would like to have acted out. The movie ends with Sam and Jake staring into each others eyes over that birthday cake. We have no idea what happens to them. Will they make it and stay together? We haven’t a clue. I like not knowing. This way I can make my own ending for these two. In my ending, they do stay together – they survive the trials and tribulations of being in a serious relationship. They get married – they have children – they stay in the suburbs. I can find no reason to ruin the fantasy that Hughes started for me with Sixteen Candles .

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John Hughes Movies: Then and Now

Hi Everybody! Robert will soon be kicking off a new series for us, which I think is brilliant. I’ll let him explain the premise. And be warned: Robert says something, you may not like, about one movie. If you are offended, please send your hate mail to Mario@mario.com. If you don’t get that reference, please check out Episode 2 of the Return to the ’80s Podcast.
Seriously, I am so excited about this series, and I hope you will be too.


John Hughes Films as Viewed as a Teen, then Later, as an Adult

by Robert Mishou

John Hughes. That name resonates deeply with everyone who was in high school on the ’80s. And how could it not? Many of his films, yes, many because, if we are being completely honest, he had a few still stinkers, i. e. Weird Science. But those others, oh, those others are the movies that got us through those incredibly awkward, disappointing, and bewildering adolescent years. Those big teen films (I’ll call them the Big Five) directed by Hughes captured what is was like to be a teen in the 1980s better than anything that previously or subsequently hit the big screen. Let me define the Big Five: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful. I am absolutely positive that you remember them because, not only did you most likely see them in the theater, you watched them – or parts of them- every time you were flipping through the one hundred seven channels available at the tip of your fingers. These films are truly deserving of the moniker “iconic.”

While recently watching one of these classics, I asked myself (yes, out loud) if they still packed the same punch that they did thirty or so years ago. Can the same movie that I loved in 1984, still affect me the same way?

No. They don’t.

Whoa – relax, I’m not here to bash Hughes or criticize these films. The movies are still the same. Samantha’s parents still forget her sixteenth birthday, Mr. Vernon is still an unbelievably cynical jerk, Ferris’ parents are still way too easy to fool, and Duckie still does not get the girl. No, these movies haven’t changed at all.

I have.

My almost forty-seven year old self does not see these movies – or the world, for that matter – the same way I did as a sophomore in high school when I had my first Hughes theatrical experience with Sixteen Candles. I am becoming more and more resigned to accepting this torturous fact – I am not fourteen any more.

So what is different? That is what I am going to examine. Over the next several weeks, I am going to take a fresh look at the Big Five. I will attempt to recall how I felt about them then, while applying my life experiences to form a more contemporary and relevant interpretation. It is not going to be easy and I will most likely have to admit to and accept some hard truths- but I am game.

I will follow the Big Five in order of release, so the first one will be Sixteen Candles. Look for it soon.

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