by Tony Nigro
As a child in the 1980s, nothing was cooler than the high school characters in John Hughes movies. Even the dorks and dweebs were memorable, sympathetic, and in some cases heroes. When Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out in 1986, I was nine years old. High school was far in the unthinkable future, but I still chose the movie as my primer for how to survive those four years. For me Hughes didn’t just reflect what it meant to be a teenager, he wrote an instruction manual.
Did it work? Was I the most remembered guy at school when I was absent? Not at all. In fact, I was much more like the Cameron Frye character. But am I rationalizing if I point out that the story is really about Cameron? He’s the impetus for the day on the town, the friend who Ferris is trying to help show a good time. And in the end, Cameron is the only character who really changes.
The passing of John Hughes, writer/director/producer/sculptor of my adolescence, reminds me of recent thoughts about nostalgia and movies. Here “John Hughes” means teen comedy and high school melodrama more than it ever does Uncle Buck or She’s Having a Baby, or for that matter Vacation. Hughes leaves behind a tremendous legacy of comedies, some better than others, but it’s the high school stuff that takes me back the most. Yet twenty-plus years ago, I didn’t know there was a shared mind in Ferris, Weird Science, Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, or Some Kind of Wonderful. All I knew was they struck the same chord: a fantasy life of suburban teenagers.
It was an ideal never to be reached, but at their best the movies’ emotions were honest; it simply came down to a teenager’s problems carrying the same emotional weight as an adult’s. Through a brilliant use of archetypes, Hughes again and again legitimized teen angst, treated the day-to-day blahs of growing up in the ‘burbs with a graceful humor not unlike that which Charles Schulz afforded his kids in “Peanuts” cartoons. I could learn what it was to be the Sidekick, want the Girl, despise the Jock, fear the Bully, or hide my head on my desk, dejected in detention. I could learn the complexities behind the strange microcosm of high school, that maybe I wasn’t the only one who felt a certain way. My younger self’s awe for Hughes’ characters evolved into something I could still relate to when I was 16, moody and awkward, more Kurt Cobain than The Psychedelic Furs. I could still root for the Samantha Bakers and Duckys and Camerons of the world while appreciating that the Ferris’s and Garys and Wyatts could get away with mischief that I only dreamed of.
Call it therapeutic, another chapter in Hughes’ book of growing up.