August 6, 2009
John Hughes, For Grownups
Filmmaker John Hughes passed away today, too young at 58. In the 1980s, Hughes had an astonishing run of iconic teen comedies that, almost a quarter century later, hold up as honest-to-goodness movies: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
My generation (I was born in 1979) was too young to see these movies in the theater, and too old for the kiddie comedies Hughes wrote (but didn’t direct) in the 1990s. We ate these movies up on VHS and basic cable, badly cut (to protect US) for broadcast TV, but seeing in them our older brothers, sisters, and cousins, and later, ourselves.
However, since everyone’s talking about these four movies, I want to single out the one great comedy Hughes made for and featuring grownups - Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I saw this movie just last week - and it’s terrific. What’s more, it shows that the world Hughes created in his films, of humiliation and catastrophes offset by unlikely friendships, isn’t just a sympathetic take on kids in fictional midwestern high schools, but a distinct comic take on the world itself. And every buddy comedy from the 1990s just follows this movie’s playbook, with half the brains, a third of the timing, and a quarter of the heart.