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Simply the Worst: John Hughes’s “Curly Sue”

Simply the Worst: John Hughes's "Curly Sue"

On August 6, 2009, the day it was announced that John Hughes had passed away, a tribute to the director appeared in a blog post written by Alison Byrne Fields. For two years in the mid-eighties, Fields had kept up a pen-pal relationship with Hughes after writing him a letter that was, as she explained, less fan mail than an outpouring of teenage angst. The story of their correspondence seems befitting of a Hughes plot: a fifteen-year-old griping about being misunderstood by her English teacher, the established Hollywood hit-maker insisting in response, “I listen. Not to Hollywood. I listen to you. I make these movies for you. Really. No lie. There’s a difference I think you understand.”

This blog entry, titled “Sincerely, John Hughes,” describes an image of the filmmaker familiar to most of us, particularly if we grew up during or soon after the eighties in suburban American. For our rites of passage, he was tending the gate; an adult, perhaps, but one who grasped the exhilaration, confusion, and flat-out weirdness of the teenage years. The high school comedies for which he’s known—Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Weird Science (1985), and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) as director, and Pretty in Pink (1986), and Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) as screenwriter—reveal someone who knew what it was like to lumber awkwardly down locker-lined corridors, hearing words like “poozer” and “bo-hunk” spoken in a cracked adolescent tenor or the quiet sighs of the painfully self-conscious. “At that age,” Hughes once said, “it feels as good to feel bad as it does to feel good,” and few films before or since have so acutely captured the mixture of comedy and pathos that attends the high school years as Hughes’. How else could he come up with scenes of Ally Sheedy shaking dandruff onto her snowy landscape drawing in The Breakfast Club, or a headgear-clad Joan Cusack trying to drink from a water fountain in Sixteen Candles, if he didn’t know firsthand the strange, turbulent texture of that world? Read Genevieve Yue’s entry in Reverse Shot’s “Simply the Worst” symposium.

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