He encouraged us to laugh at authority, even encouraging authority to laugh at themselves. He celebrated the outcasts, showing us that these individuals needed understanding and acceptance, not make-overs. He gave us iconic characters, infinitely quotable one-liners, and film plots that have survived through the years on their comic integrity rather than burning out on flashy gimmicks and gross-out moments. He is John Hughes, a beloved American filmmaker whose work spanned more than two decades and produced some of the most memorable figures and moments in American movies. Hughes passed away in 2009 from a heart attack. Many in film, television, and theatre have found ways to pay tribute to Hughes’ legacy, most recently in a comedy show called John Hughes High School, currently running at ImprovBoston in Cambridge, Massachusetts where performers use improvisation to create scenes and stories in the style of John Hughes’ movies. With the 25th Anniversary of The Breakfast Club this year, here are five of the director’s most notable films.
1. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986): “The question isn’t what are we going to do today, the question is: ‘What aren’t we going to do today?'” quips young Ferris Bueller, played by Mathew Broderick, to the audience as he readies himself for a long day of fun, silliness, and sweet transiency. Ferris Bueller’s Day off tapped into the ultimate American youth fantasy: skipping school, goofing with your friends, and staying one step ahead of parents, teachers, and other annoying authority figures who grew up and forgot what it means to just have a good time. The film follows Ferris, his girlfriend Sloane, and his best friend, Cameron, on an epic romp through downtown Chicago during the course of one school day. Ferris, the golden child of both school and family, becomes the arch enemy of Principal Ed Rooney, who goes through extraordinary and hilarious lengths to track down and “pinch” the school skipper. As with most of Hughes’ films, Ferris Bueller celebrates adolescent anarchy, while celebrating the bonds that youths share in some of the most confusing, difficult, and exhilarating years of their lives.
2. Sixteen Candles (1984): It’s Samantha Baker’s, played by Molly Ringwald, sixteenth birthday, supposed to be one of the most special and memorable days of her life. There’s only one problem: everyone has forgotten about it. To make matters worse, Sam’s crush on one of the most popular and attractive boys at school, Jake, nearly becomes public knowledge when a private note to her best friend gets slipped to Jake instead. Sixteen Candles weaves together a host of quirky and silly characters, such as the foreign exchange student, Long Duc Dong, staying with her grandparents who are in town for Samantha’s sister’s wedding, and the haplessly funny Geek, played by Anthony Michael Hall, whose attempt to earn a bit of cool cred produces some of the movie’s most memorable moments. It also gives a nod to one of Hughes’ favorite themes: sometimes nice girls finish first and their birthday wishes do come true.
3. The Breakfast Club (1985): By today’s standards, The Breakfast Club would be classified as a team dramadey, with its mixture of levity and tension that perfectly encapsulates the fears, triumphs, challenges, and humor that all teens face. Set on a typical day of Saturday detention at the fictional Shermer High School in Shermer Illinois, the movie draws together five students seemingly representative of the average high school clique system: the dead beat, the nerd, the jock, the eccentric, and the popular girl. As the film unfolds, each person shatters their own stereotype and learns there is more than meets the eye about their fellow classmates. The Breakfast Club launched the careers of Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, and Ally Sheedy, and its universal themes coupled with its astute portrayal of high school culture make it a true film classic.
4. Weird Science (1985): A modernized riff on the Frankenstein myth, Weird Science finds two nerdy friends, Gary, played by Anthony Michael Hall, and Wyatt, played by Ian Mitchel-Smith, who, using the miracles of modern computer technology, make a woman in their basement, played by actress/model/1980s sex symbol Kelly LeBroc. LeBroc takes her geeky creators on a crash course lesson in how to achieve the highest standards of coolness, which for Wyatt and Gary boil down to procuring sweet girlfriends. The geeks get the girls, a nuclear party, which makes them the most popular kids in school, and the personal tutelage in all things romance related of Ms. Kelly LeBroc.
5. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987): John Candy and Steve Martin make comedy magic in this odd couple story of two men thrown together as they attempt to travel home from New York to Chicago for the Thanksgiving holiday. Martin plays Neal Page, an uptight advertising executive, to John Candy’s Del Griffith, a gregarious, jovial, lovable oaf who sells shower curtain rings. Page and Griffith become unlikely traveling companions when their plane is diverted from Chicago to Kansas due to a blizzard and the two find themselves stranded. What ensues involves a variety of travel and social mishaps between the disparate pair. The film departs from Hughes’ high school/adolescent territory and plot, though it contains much of the sophomoric, silly humor that made Hughes’ works charming and fun and encapsulates several of his recurring themes: understanding the misfit, finding commonalities amongst differences, and ultimately practicing compassion.
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