Although there have been numerous movies made about the living hell that is high school, few writers and directors were able to capture the period as honestly as John Hughes. Hughes - who directed Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club to name but a few - had an innate respect for teenagers and the issues they face. Rather than view these characters from the jaundiced standpoint of adulthood, Hughes allowed his characters to be themselves: sincere, naive, and optimistic. He showed us the fragile creatures we all started out as, before we learned to insulate our feelings and hide behind layers of irony.
Last night's Oscar ceremony chose to honor John, who passed away in August, and his work. (Ironically, the Oscars also chose to honor the entire teen exploitation genre, known as "horror," which earns its proceeds from not treating its teen characters like living breathing human beings but as chainsaw fodder. Go figure.) Although I was excited to see some of the Hughes cast members on stage, and enjoyed their personal recollections, I was left somewhat lukewarm by the whole affair. As important as it is to mourn the individual, and the great impact he had on actors like Molly Ringwald, I felt like the entire event ignored Hughes's impact on the rest of us.
The Castro theatre held a John Hughes retrospective over Valentine's day weekend this year. Amidst the smells of popcorn, hair gel, and hipster, the entire building was alive with nostalgia and overwhelming hyperactivity. Whether you were waiting in the concession line, or the never-ending line to use the women's restroom, the people around you were downright giddy. Everyone wanted to talk about their favorite Hughes movie moments, and people often ended up quoting whole paragraphs of dialog in the process.
So what is it about John Hughes that causes this kind of adoration? What did those of us who grew up with his movies learn from him and why do we still care so much about these films?
What follows here is my own attempt to answer these questions. I may not have learned every important life lesson from a John Hughes film, but I certainly learned more than a handful of truths from his oeuvre. (Yes, I did just use that word in a sentence.) So, without further ado:
(1) You need to have the balls to stand up to your friends, family, and significant other and tell them you are going to like who you want to like.
(2) Go easy on the muscle relaxers, especially when you are about to operate heavy machinery and/or get hitched.
(3) Make sure the people you employ to take the photographs know what they are doing. Seriously.
(4) The person you have a crush on is a thousand times more likely to dig you should they find a note you've written expressing your desire to have sex with them. Sad, but true.
(5) Don't name your child after a major appliance.
(6) You are an amazing and beautiful person exactly as you are now. The people who know you, and truly love you, can see this. If someone you love cannot see all the good things that make up who you are, then THEY have the problem. (During the screening of Sixteen Candles, the entire row of girls sitting behind me uttered an "aww" when this line was rendered. We girls are suckers for lines like this.)
(7) Inside each and every one of us there is: a brain, an athlete, a princess, a basket case, and a criminal.
(8) In a pinch, shower curtain rings can stand in for earrings.
(9) Your best friend will always love you more than the person you are currently lusting after.
(10) Personal transformation is always possible. Even if you are the King of the Dipwads today, you can become a totally normal person by next year. As George Eliot phrased it, "It is never too late to be who you might have been."
Last, but not least, John Hughes movies taught me that a great soundtrack is worth its weight in gold. Love may not conquer all, but a good Smiths track just might. It's definitely worth a shot.