Just last night, I went through my DVD collection and stacked up all the movies I own of his, and was planning to spend the next week watching them whenever I had a spare moment. Just thinking of the titles brought back 25 years’ worth of memories, from Sixteen Candles to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and from the three Chevy Chase Vacation movies to the immortal holiday classic Planes, Trains & Automobiles.
These weren’t just movies to me, and to many others in my generation and the ones since. They were touchstones of our lives, that freeze-framed moments and memories both of the times we watched them and the amazing way in which they seemed to shine a light on our existence. And in particular, one character and one movie of John’s shaped my entire showbiz career ambitions.
Pretty in Pink is the movie that made me want to write movies and led me to idolize John Hughes as a movie god ever since. Why? Well, I used to have a crush on Molly Ringwald but I got over that—especially when I met her for about two seconds last fall and she blatantly tried to keep it at two seconds. (Rude!)
But it’s really because of Duckie Dale, the character immortally portrayed by Jon Cryer. At the time I saw "Pretty," I was having my heart torn out and stomped on by my unrequited first love and when I saw the movie I related to every single thing Duckie was going through. I felt like John Hughes had rigged my room with spy equipment and had translated my life right onto the screen.
Now I was nowhere near as cool as Duckie was (OK, he’s a dork, but i never realized it then). But I loved his sense of style, odd dialogue, manic energy (especially the dance to "Try a Little Tenderness"—perhaps my favorite film scene, and one that inspired a love for Otis Redding’s music I’ve harbored ever since as well).
I wished I lived in Chicago and could dress like that and felt that if it had been me, I’d win over Molly’s character. Most of all, above everything else, it made me feel that someone out there understood what I was going through, and made my intense teenage angst lighten up just a little bit. And I felt if I could someday write or act in something that made someone else feel less alone, and could help people laugh away their problems, well then that would be the pinnacle. It is truly God’s work.
The whole rest of the ’80s, I kept seeing and loving Hughes’ other movies, from Sixteen Candles to Ferris Bueller to The Breakfast Club. Ferris Bueller is another character who spoke to me, as the teenage Superman I wished I could become. I wasn’t popular in high school and wasn’t able to get out from under the iron thumb of my then-super-strict (but now surprisingly hip) parents, but when I saw Ferris’ adventures, I knew that I wanted to be like that someday.
When he came out with the more mature film Planes, Trains & Automobiles, that became my favorite film of all time. I worked in a movie theater while it was out, and saw it 9 times for free (hey, I was a 16-year-old loser in Little Rock, Arkansas—what else was I gonna do?!). I related even then to John Candy’s character Del Griffin—a too-talkative, way-too-nice guy who people usually tuned out because they couldn’t see the wonderful heart he had under his goofy, lumbering surface. His speech with Steve Martin, when he defends his life after Martin rips him to shreds, is in my book as one of the most underrated scenes in movie comedy history.
And so I did wind up in Chicago for nearly a decade. I entered the world of standup comedy and a fun type of journalism, working for alt weeklies where I’ve had an amazing amount of creative freedom to pick the topics I want to write about and am able to get “in the door” at almost every event I could possibly want to attend, since everyone wants their events publicized. Concerts, movies, plays, special events—with the newspaper career, my new blogging and my Internet radio talk show, I’m getting to experience all the cool stuff I never got to do in high school and treat my friends and dates to world-class, Ferris Bueller-style fun. My parents are still wondering if and when I’ll ever grow up, but I know Ferris Bueller never would.
Sadly, even the greatest of men eventually fall. John Hughes made nearly 20 big ‘80s films, before writing the Home Alone movies and exploding to a whole other level. But then he got trapped in the world of kiddie flicks and lamely recycling other people’s products like Dennis the Menace, before eventually giving up and retiring around 2001 to … well, no one’s really quite sure. Somewhere on a farm in northern Illinois is the best anyone can guess.
I guess that means that John Hughes grew up finally and moved on.
And now he’s gone forever, having barely worked for the past decade, leaving us with the sharply etched memories of his best work and the life-changing moments he created. His disappearance helped ensure he wouldn’t keep losing his touch, and made us forget the big missteps of the mid-to-late ‘90s.
We have DVDs now, and a chance to watch his greatest works anytime we want and to pass it on to the next generations of lonely, mixed-up kids who feel totally alone.
Don’t you forget about him.