Especially of late–considering he now IS late–much has been said of John Hughes. Or at least, I assume much as been said, as that's usually what follows the death of famous people, especially those with at least relatively cultish audiences. I don't pay a ton of attention so I can't really be sure. Still, I'm aiming neither to fly in the face of those words nor trump them. I'm just here to say my own piece and move along. Hughes' films, though, clicked with my generation and the one preceding me (primarily the one preceding me, but I've always been a bit out of place, temporally speaking). I will say I've always been more of a Ferris Bueller's Day Off sort of John Hughes fan than a Sixteen Candles one. Actually, I still haven't seen Sixteen Candles, and only saw The Breakfast Club a year or two ago. The plots themselves are nothing amazing, especially when we get into the territory of the two teen movies he wrote that Howard Deutch directed–this one and Pretty in Pink–there's even less to speak of. Both films have the same basic plot: high school kid from the wrong side of the tracks falls for other high school kid outside their social class, all the while failing to recognize their quirky best friend is already in love with them.
Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz, post-Mask and pre-The Fly II*) is a high school student who spends his free time working as a 'grease monkey' in a local auto shop. His best friend is Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson), an outwardly rebellious girl with close-cropped hair and a love of drumming, who harbours her own secret love for her best friend, unbeknownst to him, especially. His father, Cliff (John Ashton), is insistent on Keith taking on the family dream and going to college–whether Keith likes it or not–for something pragmatic. Keith takes notice of the most popular girl in school, Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson), and decides to ask her out. Watts is crushed but relatively supportive though cynical, while everyone else is incredulous. First, though, Amanda must lose her current beau: Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer, who I refuse to remember did anything else other than Nightbreed, even after I see other things**).
There's always talk of how Hughes (I can't avoid it completely, can I?) managed to properly assess, analyze and convey the interests and motivations of teenagers to teenagers, and this is, well…true. What is important about his approach is that it is neither ultra-realistic nor ultra-dramatized. I don't mean this to say that it's even remotely realistic–it rarely is–but it's of that tone that is so often called "hyper-realism," where the reality of this world seems perfectly accurate despite its heightened everything. Characters are built from archetypes (and stereotypes) but are used to at least expand, if not break, those ideas. This, at least, is more real than many of the more clumsy teen movies that have been released over the years. Characters like Hardy Jenns perfectly encapsulate the feeling of those who lord their wealth, physicality or other attributes over anyone who is found in a submissive position. Yet Hughes imbues even Jenns with a certain level of motivation and complexity–but not so much that he loses that villainous edge. We can see what drives him and why, even understand it, without empathizing so much we lose sight of the fact that he's quite definitely a villainous antagonist. He's a thorough jerk, and this is often excessive to prove this very point. The goodness of characters like Keith is also pushed in the same way. While he comes into conflict with his father over the subject of college, it's never quite so filled with heated moment mistakes as reality is. The conflict is preserved and kept feeling natural, while the inevitable side effects, consequences and fallout are set to the side. All the angst, none of the scars, if you will.
For all that I do like John Hughes, I am pretty frank about my extreme distaste for that other Deutch-directed effort, Pretty in Pink. I didn't like any of the characters, I didn't like the way the film worked out, and I especially didn't like Andie's sack dress. However, Deutch redeemed himself here. I think the film is taken as a sort of mediocre Hughes effort, not inferior but rather less than the 'classics.' Being as I think Pretty in Pink is a few miles from being a classic, I think that's an unfair–even if unemotional and relaxed–malignment of this film. I think I once read, while I was checking out the film prior to even purchasing it (some length of time ago that I'd prefer not to reveal to myself), that this is sort of considered Hughes' "adult" teen film, the most 'grown up,' or some such nonsense. While I will call it nonsense, it really isn't. It's dealing a lot more with the ideas of leaving high school and growing up and giving up the things that one wants for a "greater good." It's not another classic, mind you, but it's worth seeing as Hughes films are, so long as you like that sort of thing, and is a lot less disappointing than you might be led to believe.
*To use my own calendar of events, which may or may not mean anything to anyone else.
**Again, this is how I think of things.