Tuesday, August 11, 2009

RIP John Hughes

While I was in Block Island for a week, neither I nor my mother read The New York Times, except for a cursory glance at headlines if we were lucky enough to spot a copy (they get delivered by boat and are snatched up like rare pearls).

"I miss the obituaries," my mother confided one morning. "I want to know who died." I thought it was kind of morbid, but then I got back to New York and discovered that John Hughes, director of seminal 80s movies like Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Some Kind of Wonderful, had passed away of a heart attack at 59. And I wish I had known.

I came a tad late to the John Hughes canon, as I was only four when Sixteen Candles came out—if I'm honest with myself, I really belonged to the Home Alone generation—but when I did discover him, circa the early 90s, I fell hard.

I suspect that this is why Hughes' movies were such instant classics: every character encapsulated perfectly the angst and lust and humiliation of high school. For girls, there was Molly Ringwald as the quirky and smart but unpopular heroine of Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink, Mary Stuart Masterson as Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful, the tomboy who's unrequitedly in love with her best friend (who hasn't been there?), or Ally Sheedy, the unrepentant misfit who eats a sandwich made of Cap'n Crunch (I would so eat that). For guys, there's the geeky fabulosity of Anthony Michael Hall, the nervous, cute WASP-iness of Andrew McCarthy, the heartbreaking pseudo-gay shenanigans of Jon Cryer, or the lovable misanthrophy of Judd Nelson.

And then, of course, there is Jake Ryan. I'm speaking of the God among men character in Sixteen Candles played by Michael Schoeffling, so famously perfect that none other than The Washington Post wrote an article to that effect. Jake is handsome and popular, but he's kind, too: he falls for an awkward sophomore, Samantha Baker (Ringwald) and leaves his perfect-breasted girlfriend to take Sam on a ride in his Porsche and sit cross-legged on a table eating birthday cake. It sounds absurd, but the very notion that someone with Jake Ryan's tender brown eyes might take a second look at an imperfect-breasted, oily-skinned, leggings-wearing geek basically kept me from wanting to off myself from 1992-1996. Thanks to John Hughes, my adolescence was a little less painful than it could have been.

And for that, I will be forever grateful.

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