When Michael Keaton was cast as Batman later in the Eighties, it was a popular joke that they cast Mr. Mom as the Dark Knight. Today, it’s a sign of Keaton’s versatility, and a cautionary tale of how we shouldn’t be quick to judge casting decisions: Keaton is great as Batman, and he’s one of the best parts of “Mr. Mom” (1983). But even though John Hughes wrote “Vacation” the same year, “Mr. Mom” does not rank as one of his finer efforts.
After his four high school films as a director, John Hughes moved on to four family friendly films – the last of which is the strangest: “Curly Sue” (1991). On one level, this is another easy-to-like yarn about family and friendships. Chicago has never looked better in a Hughes film, as cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball showcases both halves: the glitzy side and the seedy side. The latter half is still appealing because it features our lovable, homeless title kid (Alisan Porter) and the surprisingly principled dad (Jim Belushi as Bill Dancer) who devises small-time cons to get their next meal.
John Candy wraps up his trilogy of starring roles in John Hughes movies – following “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and “The Great Outdoors” – with the one where he’s asked to do the most heavy lifting. He’s not armed with an A-list co-star or a riotous screenplay in “Uncle Buck” (1989). In the seventh of the eight films where writer Hughes also directs, Candy’s title character finds his sweet bachelor lifestyle (betting at the track, a bowling league, no steady job) is not so cool anymore now that he’s 40.
John Hughes’ writing talent and knack for capturing teenagers’ voices were on display pretty early, but his direction is a little clunky at the start of his career. Granted, I gave “The Breakfast Club” a five-banana rating, but I love it despite its flaws and I suspect it was saved in the editing room. For “Pretty in Pink” (1986), Hughes remembers that high school is easier to get through with a friend, so he wisely brings in Howard Deutch to direct.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) – the fourth directorial effort from writer John Hughes – has two great messages that almost no one subscribes to in their daily lives: 1, stand up for yourself if you want to control your life, and 2, public school is horrible and should not continue to exist. Yet the movie plays as a comedic fantasy more so than a guidebook. We’d like to be lucky enough to get away with everything like Ferris Bueller does – we’d like to live in the world of Yello’s “Oh Yeah” — but the bigger fantasy is that we’d even try any of these schemes in the first place.
Many moments in “Weird Science” (1985) – the third directorial effort from writer John Hughes – make me think “This movie couldn’t be made today.” Geeks Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) build a girl for the purpose of having sex with her (albeit vaguely), and Lisa (Kelly LeBrock) regularly speaks of how they own her. Lisa, clearly an adult, kisses Wyatt, who hasn’t hit puberty. The heroes defeat the evil motorcycle gang by standing up to them and calling them “f-g—s.” (Granted, that slur is always used in Hughes’ movies – because of his era – but here it’s used heroically.)
Apopular Twitter and Facebook game is to describe a classic movie in the most boring way possible. It’s easy to do with “The Breakfast Club” (1985): Five students spend eight hours in the school library. It’s such a boring premise that it seems like an Eighth Amendment violation for this quintet of high schoolers, and cruel and unusual punishment for viewers, too. But in the follow-up to his clunky directorial debut, “Sixteen Candles” (1984), writer-director John Hughes has learned how to make a diamond out of coal.
Here’s where it all begins: “Sixteen Candles” (1984) marks the start of John Hughes’ reign as a teen-cinema king and it’s the first of Molly Ringwald’s three Hughes films. I’m in the minority in finding it to be an inauspicious beginning. While Hughes’ directorial debut offers loads of talking points as it establishes tropes and popularizes the genre for a new generation, “Sixteen Candles” is a thin and sometimes even boring movie.
Some Kind of Wonderful” (1987) offers little we haven’t seen in other movies, but it has such heart and such an easygoing, naturalistic charm that it’s, well, some kind of wonderful little gem. Writer John Hughes and director Howard Deutch – in the second of their three collaborations – treat a teen love triangle and associated issues with the maturity and respectability of an adult romance film, eschewing big laughs. This is one of those “romantic comedies” that is much more of the former than the latter.
The Great Outdoors” (1988) is the John Hughes movie I most watched as a kid, probably for the random reason that we taped it off of HBO and so it was readily available on a hand-labeled VHS tape. It wasn’t a knock against his other films. But it is an appropriate choice, because kids like quoting movies, and this might be the most quotable of Hughes’ catalog.