Director John Hughes, whose films gave voice to disaffected Gen Xers across suburban America, launched the Brat Pack and laid the groundwork for an entire generation of teen comedies, passed away yesterday at the age of 59. In the wake of the news, a smattering of the tributes that have been pouring in:
Andrew Pulver at the Guardian offers a dual tribute to both Hughes and writer and producer Budd Schulberg who also passed away this week. He writes of Hughes: “Though he wasn’t the only person making teen movies in the 1980s, the six films Hughes made between 1984 and 1987 left an imperishable mark on cinema, and wider pop culture in general. ‘Sixteen Candles,’ ‘The Breakfast Club,’ ‘Weird Science,’ ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ ‘Pretty in Pink,’ and ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ are the canon (the last two he handed over to Howard Deutch for the pesky business of actually directing) and the impact they had can’t be overstated.
“None of them are perfect, not by a long shot; and ‘Weird Science’ in all honesty is pretty useless. But the seriousness and articulacy with which Hughes approached his subjects meant that he gave teens a wholly unanticipated significance. In the same way that ‘The Godfather’ made gangsters the perfect image of American capitalism in the 1970s, Hughes made teenagers the complete metaphor for the consumerist society, and one that’s very much still with us. The emotional ordeals endured by Molly Ringwald, the savvy pranksterism of Matthew Broderick, the finger-snapping rageoholic that is Judd Nelson’s Bender … all of these are icons of the contemporary age, and it’s useless to deny it.”
“There’s too much to say on short notice, and bummed as I am by the news, I don’t want to oversell Hughes’ particular brand of inspiration,” writes Matt Zoller Seitz at The House Next Door. “He directed classics or near-classics, but he also directed 1989’s bludgeoning ‘Uncle Buck’ and 1991’s saccharine ‘Curly Sue’ (and never directed again, sorry to say). Most of the time, Hughes wasn’t deep and wasn’t trying to be—and there was a conservative, even reactionary impulse lurking somewhere in his sensibility that sometimes rubbed me the wrong way; I never forgave him for that moment at the end of ‘The Breakfast Club’ when preppy princess Molly Ringwald helps ‘clean up’ Ally Sheedy’s introverted freak chick, and everyone (the movie included—or so it seems) concurs that she looks much better now. But at his best, Hughes balanced a consummate entertainer’s relentless pursuit of applause with an artist’s appreciation for the diversity of the human carnival unfolding before our eyes—on screens and in life.”
“Had Hughes stuck it out, he could’ve been this generation’s Frank Capra or Preston Sturges or Frank Tashlin,” concludes the A.V. Club’s Noel Murray. “At their best–and the best was all-too-rare, given what Hughes was capable of–his films were noteworthy for their quotable lines, eye-popping style and thick streak of sentiment. Not for nothing has the phrase ‘like something out of a John Hughes movie’ become something that any reasonably pop-literate person will understand. His work will continue to be enjoyed for a good long while.”
The L.A. Times’ Patrick Goldstein (who calls Hughes the “Tolstoy of American teenagers”) collects a number of quotes from Hughes’ fellow filmmakers. From Judd Apatow: “John Hughes wrote some of the great outsider characters of all time. It’s pretty ridiculous to hear people talk about the movies we’ve been doing, with outrageous humor and sweetness all combined, as if they were an original idea. I mean, it was all there first in John Hughes’ films. Whether it’s ‘Freaks and Geeks’ or ‘Superbad,’ the whole idea of having outsiders as lead characters, that all started with Hughes.”
“Yes—he was a storyteller of undeniable skill and huge influence. But I was always more on board with the sensibilities of the first generation of National Lampoon writers than the second,” blogs Glenn Kenny. “That is, I was an Animal House man, not a Vacation man. As for the Brat Pack stuff, I was too old. Also too much of a post-punk snob. The only time one of those pictures made me sit up straight in my chair was the moment in ‘Pretty In Pink’ when Molly Ringwald walks in the house and her weirdo dad Harry Dean Stanton is reading Finnegans Wake. What was up with that? In recent years, he interested me mostly as a Hollywood cautionary tale, albeit a relatively inaccessible one. For a time, he owned screen comedy. Then, not. His adoption of the pseudonym Edmond Dantes spoke volumes. As did the fierceness with which he guarded his privacy. I daresay we’ll learn a little more about all of this in days and months to come.”
“He hadn’t directed in 18 years. Hadn’t produced anything in over a decade. Hadn’t written anything new in over 8 years. But that flame, when lit, burned brighter than almost any other in all of movie history. He is truly a legend. And truly sad to see him go before 60 after he found a placid life in the rural midwest, far away from the rat race of Hollywood,” observes Dave Poland.
“He took teenagers seriously, and his films are distinctive for showing them as individuals with real hopes, ambitions, problems and behavior,” writes Roger Ebert who also quotes Hughes: “‘Kids are smart enough to know that most teenage movies are just exploiting them. They’ll respond to a film about teenagers as people. [My] movies are about the beauty of just growing up. I think teenage girls are especially ready for this kind of movie, after being grossed out by all the sex and violence in most teenage movies. People forget that when you’re 16, you’re probably more serious than you’ll ever be again. You think seriously about the big questions.'”
Christopher Campbell at Spout offers a list of “8 Things in John Hughes Movies You Won’t See in Today’s Teen Movies.”
Read John Hughes’ obituary in the New York Times.