John Hughes hadn’t written and directed a movie in years. But his death of a heart attack today on a visit to Manhattan pulled me up short. Hughes was 59, but his unique talent was for writing about the teenager in all of us, the one we don’t leave behind no matter how old we get. Hughes never talked down his characters.
“The extraordinary doesn’t interest me,” he said. “I’m interested in the person you don’t expect to have a story.” Judd Apatow and Wes Anderson are just two of the filmmakers who credit the Hughes influence on their work. And so, referencing the first movie he directed, I’d like to light 16 candles in honor of indelible John Hughes movie moments. You are welcome to share yours:
1. Matthew Broderick on the parade float rocking out to Twist and Shout in my all-time favorite Hughes renegade teen movie, 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
2. The geek perfection of Anthony Michael Hall in Sixteen Candles. As Judd Apatow, creator of Freaks and Geeks, has said: “When we were growing up, we were all like Hall, the goofy skinny kid who thinks he’s cool, even if nobody else does.”
3. In that same movie, the bruised innocence of Molly Ringwald — a frequent Hughes inspiration — trying and failing to hide a world of family hurt in the line, “they fucking forgot my birthday.”
4. In The Breakfast Club, bad boy Judd Nelson handing his sunglasses to athlete Emilio Estevez with the coolest of purposes, “for better hallway vision.”
5. In that same movie, the ultimate in 1980’s teen angst, the scenes where all of these teens in school detention break out in a dance that manages to be simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking.
6. High school nerds Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith, in the underappreciated Weird Science, trying to create the ideal woman on a computer, one with Einstein’s brain and David Lee Roth’s attitude.
7. Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin in Home Alone dreaming of a nice, plain cheese pizza, “just for me.”
8. The inspired madness in National Lampoon’s Vacation when the family decides to strap the newly deceased Aunt Edna to the roof of the car so as not to slow down their holiday fun.
9. The way Hughes sets off the have and have-nots in Pretty in Pink, all reflected in the shame on Molly Ringwald’s face when her rich boyfriend (Andrew McCarthy) sees her house on the wrong side of the tracks.
10. In that same movie, just watching the way the pompadour deflates on Jon Cryer’s geekboy Duckie when Ringwald breaks his heart.
11. The satisfaction of watching the end of Some Kind of Wonderful, in which Hughes makes up for the cop-out wrap-up of Pretty in Pink by this time letting the geek (Eric Stoltz) get the girl (Mary Stuart Masterson).
12. The acute sensitivity Hughes showed to youthful outcasts, such as the so-called basket case” memorably played by Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club.
13. In that same movie, looking out for a rare glimpse of Hughes onscreen as Anthony Michael Hall’s clueless father.
14. The love Hughes pours into every frame that features the late John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Uncle Buck.
15. Everything you can learn about Hughes’ life and marriage to childhood sweetheart Nancy just by watching 1988’s She’s Having a Baby.
16. Hearing Matthew Broderick say the line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that sums up, for me, the Hughes philosophy that resonates through all his films: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Hughes didn’t miss a thing.