On the night of Saturday 25th April, I attended a John Hughes movie marathon. It took place at the professional yet welcomingly run Prince Charles Cinema, in London’s own Leicester Square. From the hours of roughly 9PM to roughly 8AM on Sunday morning, I, my two wonderful friends and a cinema full of other crazies, sat through no less than six John Hughes films. True, I might have napped a little. During film three. And four. And five, but I did what I had to do to survive, and I had seen all of these films before so I think it’s still pretty safe for me to comment on them. Watching these consecutively and bunched together in the particular order designated by the cinema does change your perspective on some of these works, both individually and as a collective. I also started to notice how much John Hughes seemed to like dogs, The Beatles, specific actors, looks into the camera, the concept of fictitious Canadian girlfriends and lip synching/dance freak-outs.
1.Weird Science (1985, Written and Directed by John Hughes)
This was weirder than I remember it, and the science was far more far-fetched (the on-screen computer graphics got the biggest laugh of the night.) Out of the six films we saw, Weird Science was the most silly; it’s so totally laid-back that there isn’t even the barest hint of realism, or even logically sequenced events. There are nuclear missiles appearing through Wyatt’s (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) bedroom floor and his brother Chet (Bill Paxman) is transformed into some strange stink beast. The awkward moment came when we all simultaneously realised how paedophilic some of the scenes now feel; particularly when Lisa confronts Gary’s (Anthony Michael Hall) parents and insists that she is taking them to a party, “You know, there’s going to be sex, drugs, rock-n-roll… chips, dips, chains, whips…”
2.Pretty in Pink (1986, Written and Co-Produced by John Hughes)
The only film in our line-up not directed by Hughes, Pretty in Pink was in fact the directorial debut of Howard Deutch. Although I enjoy Molly Ringwald’s style as Andie Walsh, I found it more difficult to emote with a girl who turns down both James Spader (the tremendously rich and arrogant Steff), and John Cryer (the loveable ‘friend-zone’ Duckie) and still moans that she doesn’t have a date for the prom. I really enjoyed Annie Potts (Janine from Ghostbusters) in the surrogate mother role as Iona, and Harry Dean Stanton as an unexpectedly sweet father figure.
I know that there was a lot of debate about how to end this movie, and I would rather that Hughes had gone with the original idea of letting Duckie get the girl. When Duckie appears at the top of the stairs on prom night, the whole cinema uttered a collective “We love you, Duckie!” Instead, Andrew McCarthy as Blane McDonnagh is a rather creepy leading man (perhaps the second biggest laugh on that long night was one of fear when Blane rises from behind the computer countertop and surprises Andie). Hughes goes some way in this film to capturing that end-of-the-world feeling of teenage misery and angst, but it doesn’t seem worth Molly Ringwald going through it all. Not for Blane.
3.Uncle Buck (1989 Written, Directed and Co-produced by John Hughes)
It was reassuring to see in this film, after the previous two, that Hughes doesn’t side whole heartedly with a single age group or gender; Buck is also a figure of sympathy. In fact, Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly) was openly called some very rude words by a less than sober member of our audience. I could see where Tia was coming from, though; her parents do ooze a certain hopeless under-confidence.
The most enjoyable moments for me are when Buck is pretending to be deeply unhinged; particularly when he threatens Tia’s boyfriend, Bug with a hatchet, “Not to kill, no. Just to maim.” I did, however, feel sympathy for Chanice (Amy Madigan), commitment-phobe Buck’s long suffering girlfriend.
It’s also interesting to note the Home Alone (1990) seeds being sewn. There are moments when Miles (Macaulay Culkin) is busying himself with housework or making ‘endearingly’ grown up asides to himself, where it you can almost hear the ‘ding’ of that fateful lightbulb going off in John Hughes’ head
4.Trains, Planes and Automobiles (1987, Written, Directed and Co-Produced by John Hughes)
This was my favourite John Hughes movie before the marathon and it remains so now. Although I enjoy the teen vibe of a lot of Hughes films, it was good to take a complete break from that. To my mind, Trains, Planes and Automobiles is easily the funniest “Those aren’t pillows!” of the bunch as well as the most moving. It’s a buddy film with heart, and avoids being too corny by virtue of the face that Neal (Steve Martin) seems to feel such obvious disgust for Del (John Candy) when he first meets him. It doesn’t feel like either one of these comedy stalwarts is trying to outdo the other and the film is well written enough that both lead roles are equally as good as the other. It’s also a perfect holiday film, in that it makes you truly appreciate what you have.
5.Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986, Written and Directed and Co-Produced by John Hughes)
As a film and as a character, Ferris Bueller is charming. Matthew Broderick’s frank speeches, delivered directly into the camera are endearing, and the honesty with which he conducts his shenanigans also softens the audience to his vague criminality. I’m especially a fan of the big Danke Schoen/Twist and Shout parade-crashing set piece and I think that Cameron (Alan Ruck) and Sloane (Mia Sara, who I love in 1985’s Legend) are both interesting characters in their own right.
However, the time on the narrative spent following Principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) trying to catch Ferris out, verges on Home Alone style slapstick that I would rather Hughes had left out. The nerd in me also kind of wishes that Ferris had got caught and expelled (sorry!) At times, I share his sister Jeanie’s (Jennifer Grey) exasperation; Ferris represents those sorts of people who always get away with slacking off while the rest of us work hard. Grrrr…
6.The Breakfast Club (1985, Written, Directed and Co-Produced by John Hughes)
Perhaps my patience was wearing thin by this stage, but I would say that The Breakfast Club was my least favourite of the marathon. Although I appreciate the sentiment of ‘we’re so much more than our high-school labels’ message, the point still fells very laboured to me. There are still some lovely moments; such as Ally Sheedy as Allison, the “basket case” who was only in detention because she had nothing better to do. Even she, however, becomes the victim of a ridiculous make over (she looked better in black, okay?) The janitor, Carl (John Kapelos) is the only counterweight in this film to what fees like a very over-dramatic, complete condemnation of the adult world.
And then the marathon was over.
Blinking into the early morning sunlight, dazedly waiting for an employee of the cinema to come and take our group ‘survival photo’, I think we all felt as if we’d been part of something bigger than ourselves (to use true 1980s Hughes schmaltz). We entered a strange, surreal world where people scurried in front of the film screen in Cookie Monster onesie; where after each film ended there was applause; where we all felt that we had achieved something great.