John Hughes, RIP

by Jeff Abbott on August 7, 2009

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
- Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

John Hughes died yesterday, much too young at 59. His movies went through phases of praise and dismissal, but in the Abbott household, he is much loved. (My wife took a copy of Sixteen Candles with her into the delivery room, as a distraction from labor pains. As she has the entire film memorized, I am surprised that she needed an actual copy.)

There was a time, in the mid-80s, where my life felt like a John Hughes Movie. I was dealing with a very difficult divorce between my parents (in pure John Hughes fashion, I found out about it the day after graduation and didn’t see it coming), I was in a hot/cold romantic relationship that would not move to the next level but would not die; and I’d figured out, with a lot of pain, that my plan of the last five years, which was to go to law school at Washington & Lee and be a respectable lawyer, was not at all what I wanted to do — I wanted to be a writer. I had no idea how to be a writer: there was no proscribed route to take, as there was for law. It was a path without signposts, borders, or a compass. I wanted to choose the road less traveled. And when you’re young, the road less traveled is scary as hell.

John Hughes’s films were often about that road: breaking out of the strictures of our lives that our peers and our families put on us. Even his biggest commercial success, Home Alone, is a fable about a boy who, forced to fend for himself, breaks every rule about what it is to be a kid–amd in doing so, becomes a much nicer and better kid. He crafted films that were about being young, and about growing up and not being quite so young any more. I suggest this is a much harder creative task than it sounds. That whole philosophy is wrapped up in Duckie’s (Jon Cryer) admission to Andie (Molly Ringwald) in Pretty in Pink that he must change:

Duckie: . . here’s the point, Andie. I’m not particularly concerned with whether or not you like me, because I live to like you and… and I can’t like you anymore. So… so when you’re feeling real low and… and dirty, and your heart is splattered all over hell, don’t look to me to pump you back up ’cause… ’cause… ’cause maybe for the first time in your life I WON’T BE THERE!

Andie: I can’t believe you’re saying this.

Learning how to cope with our heartbreaks and learning how to cope with love is learning how to grow up–it is the first step on taking a road less traveled. It’s a simple truth that John Hughes told again and again.

His films are full of iconic moments for my generation:
–Andie (Molly Ringwald) and Blaine (Andrew McCarthy) in Pretty In Pink, arguing in the hallway about prom, when he won’t admit he’s caving into peer pressure not to date her, and then kissing in front of the BMW
–the cast dancing in the library in The Breakfast Club (and I remember every girl I knew wanting those boots that Molly Ringwald wore)
–John Candy and Steve Martin sharing a bed in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
–The Geek (Anthony Michael Hall) holding up Samantha’s (Molly Ringwald) panties to an audience of awe-struck dorks in Sixteen Candles
Long Duc Dong being found on the front lawn after a rough night in Sixteen Candles
–Ben Stein’s nearly comatose roll call in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Thank you, Mr. Hughes. You entertained a generation.

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