“I grew up in a neighborhood that was mostly girls and old people,” John Hughes once said about his upbringing. “There weren’t any boys my age, so I spent a lot of time by myself, imagining things.”
Hughes, one of the most prolific and talented moviemakers of the 1980s, did what no other director before or since has been able to do with half the same heart or reality: tell the stories of teenagers.
Let me elaborate.
In the span of years between 1982 and 1990, John Hughes wrote or directed 10 films that still run repeatedly on TV and are widely beloved today. You know them as: “Some Kind of Wonderful;” “Sixteen Candles;” “The Breakfast Club;” “Weird Science;” “Pretty in Pink;” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off;” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles;” “Uncle Buck;” “Christmas Vacation” and “Home Alone.”
Think about that for a second. How many of those movies have you seen or heard about? How many of them can you quote line-for-line? How many memorable scenes or songs immediately come to mind?
If Shakespeare created the human being, John Hughes created the teenager. For better or worse, he catalogued those pubescent years with a genius’ eye for detail and a poet’s sense of heart. His characters were jocks, nerds, troublemakers and homecoming queens. They were cynical (Cameron Frye), irresponsible (Uncle Buck), resourceful (Kevin McCallister), dedicated (Clark Griswold), criminal (John Bender) and larger-than-life (Ferris Bueller). We remember them not as stars or icons or archetypes, but as unrealized versions of ourselves.
And it all goes back to Hughes’s upbringing, a time of imagination and introspection. He quickly figured out that knowing people — knowing what they think, how they feel, why they behave the way they do — is really an act of imagining them as slight variations of ourselves.
Take Andrew, Emilio Estevez’s character in “The Breakfast Club,” for example. As a star high school athlete, Andrew has a different way of thinking about things than, say, Brian, the class brain. And Andrew and Brian each have different ways of thinking about things than Allison, the girl with personal issues. But in Hughes’s films, these differences don’t matter because, as Andrew explains, “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”
It’s a cliché thing to say, but when John Hughes died in 2009—at the age of 59—he left an enormous void in the world of Hollywood. The greatest documenter of teenage angst left without having taught us how to approach the current generation, without giving us a blueprint for telling the millennial story. And that’s a problem.
Of all the generations that have come to pass in the world, the millennial generation, our generation, is the hardest to connect with, the hardest to pin down. We come from cities, small rural towns and suburbs, from the East Coast, West Coast, Third Coast, from rich and from poor, from private schools, public schools, boarding schools, charter and trade schools, from countries on the North American continent and countries that aren’t. As young adults bombarded with information in just about every variety and from every screen, we develop individualized, highly personal opinions. We love to look at ourselves, but we hate to talk about ourselves.
All this is to say that, well, we’re all very different from one another. As it stands now, there exists no great record of who we are as a generation. We don’t have our “Breakfast Club” yet; we don’t have our Ferris Bueller. Without such stories and characters, we remain faceless in the chronicles of history.
So I ask: Will the next John Hughes please stand up?