“When you grow up, your heart dies...”
Pretty ironic words, considering they were written by an adult man though he has been described as a modern day Peter Pan who refused to grow old. I guess we could all learn a lot from John Hughes on how to make sure we don’t lose our inner child and become practical lifeless adults. Before John Hughes came along in the 80s films that focused on teens and their problems were pretty rare. These days we have gone past three generations of angsty teen movies ranging from the light-hearted (Clueless) to the dark and disturbing (Heathers) so people will often forget the influence John Hughes had on films. Here are five stock characters from a high school setting and let’s find out what makes them tick.
The five teens are hauled into school for a Saturday detention. First we have a popular guy Andrew on the wrestling team who feels pressured by his father into winning all the time. Next up is another popular girl Claire who skipped school to go shopping instead and seems like your typical rich princess. Then there’s the mad delinquent John Bender who is an attention seeking asshole who is apparently in detention for the next several Saturdays. There’s Brian next, a nerd who is constantly put under pressure by his parents to be a straight A student (his mother only has two lines and they fully establish her as a complete bitch). Finally we have Allison, the “basket case” who rarely speaks and is very introverted, not to mention more than a little odd. They are all under the watchful eye of their principal Mr Richard Vernon who seems even unhappier than they are at being forced to come in on a Saturday and supervise them.
What makes the characters in this film so compelling is that – even before John Hughes’s characters and clichés were being deconstructed with Heathers – they themselves were deconstructions of the typical high school stock characters. Andy does seem like a typical jerkass jock (though unusually not a football player as they often seem to be in teen movies) but of course he’s revealed to be under immense pressure by his father to succeed and he secretly hopes that one day he gets injured so he won’t have to wrestle anymore. When you find out exactly why he’s in detention be warned, you might find the tears on the way. Claire is probably the best deconstruction of the typical bratty princess (again different since she’s not a cheerleader, which these girls normally are) in that she is quite a nice person but her parents are getting divorced and they use her to get back at each other. She later even admits that she hates how her friends practically force her to be unkind to the unpopular kids. Brian is a nice refreshing change from the typical nerd we normally see since he doesn’t have glasses, unflattering braces or obvious allergies and he’s shown to be similarly as conceited as Andy and Claire given that he thought Shop was an easy class. Bender gives the typical antisocial jerkass a bit of a backstory with his awful home life and showing that he isn’t always a complete douchebag. As for Allison, I’m not sure what character she’s meant to be deconstructing but she is at least shown to be given a similar reason as for why she is the way she is. She is almost a female version of Bender, constantly begging for attention and expecting people to have a problem with her.
Even the principal is shown to have some depth and in some cases I find myself rooting for him over Bender. I remember reading something pretty meaningful about the symbolism in this film: it’s nearly all dialogue and it takes place in a library which is a collection of words (just like dialogue). But you won’t just get the words in a library unless you seek them out, just like the character’s thoughts. Isn’t that deep?
We have five members of the Brat Pack starring in this film and they all went on to become big stars of teen movies and later on proper other films as well. Emilio Estevez plays Andrew and of course turns the jerk jock stereotype on its head to give a pretty heartfelt performance. The big “circle time” scene everyone knows so well is definitely the peak of his role in this film and really sells Andrew as a character to me. It is rare for the athlete types to be given actual depth in these movies. Judd Nelson as Bender promptly tries to steal the show, commanding all the attention just as his character does. Often you find it pretty hard to decide whether you like him or not. Regardless of that he does get some of the best lines in the film such as “does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?” and apparently he stayed in character between takes and bullied poor Molly Ringwald so much she nearly walked off the set. Molly gives probably the most touching performance in the film, made all the more poignant when you realise she is playing the type of character we’re normally meant to hate and pray for her comeuppance. We really do see two different sides to Claire in the film without her appearing to be two-faced. Anthony Michael Hall plays one of the more sympathetic characters and I found myself liking Brian from the very first scene. I definitely see him as someone I would have been friends with in high school. It’s kind of a shame he’s the only character who doesn’t hook up with anyone else in the film.
Ally Sheady, well she stood out anyway though her performance was a little hard to take. I’ve never known anyone like Allison and that’s probably for the best. I’m going to talk about the big thing – the makeover. It does look quite outdated now and she does look a bit like she’s been dressed in a pillow case. There is a little too much pink but then again she wasn’t exactly a knockout before the makeover either.
There is a little bit of a sore spot I often get whenever I think about this film and it is a bit of a spoiler. Bender and Claire actually hooking up is incredibly disturbing, even for a film deconstructing clichéd teen characters. You have Bender bullying and verbally abusing Claire throughout the entire film, attacking her for having rich parents and going to some really extreme lengths. That sort of makes Claire seem a bit touched in the head when she finally hooks up with him. It gives the bad lesson that girls should only hook up with boys who verbally abuse them and mock them constantly – but hey that is the stuff great Lifetime movies are made of. I was pushing for Claire to hook up with Brian at the end since that would make a lot more sense and would give the message that Bender should work hard to become a nicer person and that way he might get someone who loves him. But then again it does seem like Claire is only hooking up with a delinquent like him to piss her parents off, though that does open up a whole other can of worms...
So anyway that’s my only John Hughes film on the list though I do salute a great man who was very innovative and ended up influencing a good portion of the other teen films on my list, and sadly influencing Heathers as well. The film is a nice warm insightful look into the world of teenagers that everyone is a part of at some time in their life. If you happen to be a parent having trouble with your teenager, take a lesson from this film and remember that teens are people too. And on that note, I’ll say don’t you forget about me or about following me on Twitter. Sincerely yours, Bobby-verse.