Wow, this one hits like a ton of bricks. John Hughes, the director of all-time teen classics The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Weird Science, and the writer/producer of two more teen favorites, Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful, died of a heart attack today in New York. He was 59.
I'm a bit at a loss for words, but for people my age in our mid '30s, John Hughes wasn't just a filmmaker. He was an institution. He created characters and movies that will live on forever, and which continue to define our generation.
Who hasn't quoted from Ferris Bueller? Right now, Ferris' remark about life and taking the time to stop and look around and appreciate things couldn't be more appropriate. We're especially humbled, and should stop to appreciate what Hughes offered all of us, and pop culture in general.
Think about Molly Ringwald's performance as Samantha Baker, the forgotten 16-year-old bday girl, and her crush on Jake Ryan in 16 Candles (she even made the cover of Time magazine). Or stop and remember Anthony Michael Hall as "The Geek" in that movie. He's still one of the most criminally underrated underdogs in cinema history (watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt closely in (500) Days of Summer...he's basically a grown-up, slightly hipper version of Hall).
Hughes was a wunderkind as a filmmaker and as a writer who created real teenagers who weren't stereotypes, but people with real feelings and thoughts beyond the hormonal variety. Hughes cared about his audience, and respected them. Watch the scene in The Breakfast Club where the five 'types' of teens actually sit down and listen to one another.
If you were of that age in the '80s- or even if you were an adult who remembered what those years could feel like -that scene hit home in a way that hadn't been seen before in the genre. It's so easy to be too cool for school nowadays, but John Hughes showed that it was ok to celebrate the funny things about being an adolescent, and still respect the fragile reality of being human no matter what age we are.
Hughes wasn't just in touch with the kids. Watch Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Hughes creates a very funny and very honest connection between Steve Martin's uptight traveller and John Candy's lax shower curtain ring salesman. By the film's end, what develops between Martin and his family and Candy is magical, and it's earned because Hughes took the time to develop the story towards a genuine payoff.
I, like so many of Hughes' fans and colleagues, were hoping for his triumphant return to Hollywood. I would have loved to have seen him show today's filmmakers one more time how to create a dramedy that combines laughs with an emotional core and characters as memorable as Ferris, John Bender, Andy, Claire, Kevin McCallister from Home Alone, or Clark Griswold from the first Vacation.
That's right. Hughes also wrote that classic first Vacation movie, which painfully, hilariously, authentically reproduces all of our collective family vacation nightmares. Thinking about Clark racing his son Rusty to the front gate of Wally World to the strains of Chariots of Fire's synthesizer score, Clark running and hopping up and down with glee...well, it's just one more movie notch in Hughes' belt.
Two more memories from his films...the first is the cinderella ending of Some Kind of Wonderful where Eric Stoltz's teen hero Keith finally makes a realization about his friend Mary Stuart Masterson, who plays the ever-so-beautiful tomboy Watts. The second is the scene where Ferris jumps up on the parade float and brings the entire city of Chicago to their feet with his rollicking lip-synch to The Beatles' "Twist & Shout."
Those movie memories say a lot about optimism, romance, comedy and joy, and they say a lot about the man who created them. Hughes only directed 8 movies in his entire career, but he put his stamp on every project he was involved in, and he was never afraid to put his feelings up on the screen for all of us to share in common...and for that, we're forever grateful.