Sixteen Candles. The Breakfast Club. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Pretty in Pink. These are probably four of the most identifiable teen movies from the 1980s. They also came from one John Hughes, a writer-director that continues to speak for generations of teenagers, even after his passing in 2009.
But what if I told you that I recently discovered that there are some teens that have navigated high school halls and even graduated high school without having seen but maybe one of his movies.
When my friend Felicia told me that her high school grad daughter, Lexi, had only seen The Breakfast Club, I was shocked. Being a movie writer I felt it was my civic duty to show Lexi and her younger siblings (brother Cory and sister Emilee) some of the works of John Hughes. Plus, I wanted to see if it would make for a fun social experiment, seeing how they reacted to the characters, the clothes, and the ‘80s as a whole. Being born in 1981 I can be very nostalgic when it comes to everything ’80s, even though I didn’t hit my teen years until the 1990s, where fashion went from baggy pants to flannel shirts.
Saturday: 2:05 P.M.
The first movie of the afternoon was Sixteen Candles. This was John Hughes’s directing debut, which came about after writing a pair of hit comedies, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Mr. Mom, the latter of which starred Michael Keaton and Terri Garr.
Rarely are we afforded teen movies where principal actors are around the ages of their characters. Oftentimes we get twenty-somethings playing sixteen or eighteen year olds. However, with Molly Ringwald as Samantha Baker we get an honest to goodness sixteen-year-old. As the story goes, at the start Samantha celebrates her Sweet 16 by having her entire family forget her birthday. They are so involved with the upcoming wedding of her older sister that they completely forgot. Even the grandparents who, as Samantha declares about birthdays, “live for that shit,” forgot.
When passed a note in class (this would be a text nowadays) containing a sex questionnaire, it inexplicably ends up in the hands of the guy she wishes to “do it with,” Jake Ryan, a senior and school heartthrob. Over the course of the night both she and Jake have failed attempts at getting to have a moment together, either through fear of embarrassment, the inability to talk on the phone, dealing with a drunk girlfriend, foreign exchange student, or giving up your underpants so a geek can impress his friends and gullible freshmen thinking he “bagged a babe” at the school dance. But in true Hollywood fashion, it all works out at the end with the best birthday kiss.
It was during the movie that I made an actor reference to Lexi, who had recently watched Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands for the first time. I said to her, “Remember the actor who played Winona Ryder’s boyfriend, Jim – the one who wanted Edward to pick a lock so Jim could rob his parents’ house. That’s him.” She seemed flabbergasted that Ted (aka “Farmer Ted” aka the Geek) from Sixteen Candles and Jim in Scissorhands were the same guy.
Hey, you aren’t the only one. Anthony Michael Hall had quite the transformation in six years, going from a braceface geek to playing a high school quarterback (in Johnny Be Good, alongside Robert Downey, Jr. and Uma Thurman) to breaking out of teen roles entirely.
Also during Sixteen Candles questions arose like, “Why is there a phone in a car?” and “There were phones in school?” Ah, the days where iPhones and Androids didn’t exist.
Saturday: 4:00 P.M.
Up next was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This is pure cinematic joy. I only know of one person that does not like this movie. In his defense he has a background in teaching, so those who have seen John Hughes’s cinematic love letter to the city of Chicago, you can understand why he would not like seeing a teenager outsmart adults, especially a Dean of Students.
While I’ll contend that The Breakfast Club is probably the most important Hughes film on the basis of cliques, stereotypes and its major theme on the struggle of the American teenager to be understood, by adults and themselves, Ferris Bueller carries with it more replayability. I can quote most of it verbatim, to a point where I was so overjoyed during the presentation that I said a few lines of dialogue. It was met with a “Spoiler alert. Gosh, Travis.” reaction.
Of the three Hughes movies I showed, this was probably the most receptive. Just as I had expected it would be.
The comedy is fun and life-affirming. It has a stated purpose with the ubiquitous quote of “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” When Ferris fakes being sick to get out of attending school for the ninth time during his last semester of senior year, it’s to miss more than a test on European Socialism. He forgoes school so he can coax his depressive best friend, Cameron (Alan Ruck), out of bed and into having a good time.
Word quickly spreads throughout school about Ferris’s apparent illness that it causes the students and community to mount a campaign to “Save Ferris.” His suspicious sister, Jeannie (Jennifer Grey), and principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) take umbrage with Ferris ditching school, so they take individual approaches with getting back at the kid who won’t answer to Bueller – even if Ben Stein says his name three times.
Standout moments enjoyed by Felicia’s kids include Ed Rooney’s reaction with talking to Mr. Peterson, the father of Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara), Ferris’s girlfriend, believing it is Ferris disguising his voice. Ferris posing as Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago, so he, Sloane and Cameron can gain entry to the upscale restaurant Chez Quis; and Ferris crashing the Von Steuben Day Parade with a lip-synched performance of Wayne Netwon’s cover of “Danke Schoen” followed by “Twist and Shout,” a performance that has thousands of extras dancing in the streets.
Best question asked during the movie.
“Oh. I see it now. He looks like a vampire.”
Saturday: 6:30-ish P.M.
After an early dinner we moved on to the last John Hughes movie of the afternoon, Pretty in Pink. Though it was released before Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, this was the best send off for the day, if only because I hadn’t seen it in more than fifteen years. Let’s see if I can remember anything about this movie other than Duckie. How can you not remember Duckie?
This movie would mark Molly Ringwald’s last collaboration with John Hughes. She served as his ingénue for three films. Their history together may have been short-lived, but I’ll always contend that when she was cast in Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink she was wise beyond her years. Not in terms of looks, but in maturity. Here was a sixteen-year-old actually playing to her audience. Teenagers. Yet she appeared much older.
Her three films have her navigating high school as a sophomore that goes unnoticed by the likes of a senior heartthrob, to being an upper crust socialite that blew off school to go shopping (which earned her a trip to Saturday detention), to being working-class, juggling school and a part-time job while her underemployed father pines away for the wife and mother that left them three years ago. Each offers a unique take on the high school experience through the eyes of a teenage girl.
Pretty in Pink stars Ringwald as Andie Walsh, a girl who has a crush on preppy Blane McDonaugh (Andrew McCarthy). Navigating different social circles causes resistance with them getting together. Unlike the classic Billie Joel song, Andie is no uptown girl. It is Blane that comes from a white-bread world. A friend to arrogant rich kid, Steff (James Spader), has him ashamed of his social standing. But instead of doing the right thing, chasing love, he maintains a status quo after having made advances to Andie and the two sharing their first kiss and offering to take her to prom.
We also have Andie’s best friend, Phil “Duckie” Dale (Jon Cryer), who has been in love with her since they were kids, but is unable to express his true feelings without them coming across as a joke. Her interest in Blane doesn’t sit well and it causes friction between the two friends.
Some of the biggest takeaways is noticing actress Gina Gershon as a background character and totally forgetting that Duckie did a lip-sync version of Otis Redding’s “A Little Tenderness” at Trax, the record store where Andie works. During the presentation I learned, thanks to Wikipedia, that Andrew McCarthy left acting to pursue a career as a travel writer. He’s also directed a number of episodes for television, including The Blacklist, starring his Pretty in Pink co-star, James Spader.
Surprisingly, the ending didn’t sit well with Lexi and her younger sister, Emilee. They were on opposing sides. One became a charter member of Team Duckie, while another was totally behind Team Blane. Mind you, this was nearly twenty years before Team Edward and Team Jacob was a thing. Coincidentally, the original ending had Andie going with Duckie. This didn’t sit well with test audiences so the ending was changed to her sharing a kiss with Blane outside of prom in the parking lot. For the re-shot ending, ’80s new wave band OMD wrote the classic “If You Leave” in less than twenty-four hours.
Best questions asked during the screening of Pretty in Pink.
(About Duckie) Is that the guy from Two and a Half Men?
What are they wearing (with regards to ladies gym outfits)?
Is she smoking in gym?
And there you have it, a lazy Saturday afternoon with John Hughes. Felicia’s kids were very receptive to his works, especially Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. My job is done.