Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double feature that will not only make for a great evening’s viewing, but will bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…
THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985) and PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (1987)
If you get right down to it, there are primarily two types of John Hughes films. The first is the type he’s best known for: the teen angst comedy. Adolescent desires and frustrations are depicted through low-fi high concepts: what if you family forgot your 16th birthday? How much life could you live if you skipped school for a day? What if five kids with nothing in common had to spend a Saturday in detention together? The Breakfast Club is perhaps the ultimate Hughes film: it’s fully committed to its elevator pitch, it digs into uncomfortable emotional territory, it’s funny as hell, and it features Molly Ringwald. It’s essentially all the Hughes teen films smashed into one, which is why we’ve programmed it as your first film of the evening. Then we follow it up with that other perennial John Hughes film: the frustrated family man who just wants to do right by his family. From Mr Mom to She’s Having a Baby to the Vacation series, Hughes was consumed with how life and circumstance conspire to thwart the best-intentioned husband and dad. With Planes, Trains and Automobiles, he turned his successful Vacation formula on its head, this time featuring a man trying to escape the road to return to his family. Whether troubled teen or desperate dad, these two films should give you a good idea of what drove Hughes. Quite literally in the case of Planes, Trains.
Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen The Breakfast Club, seek out Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). It’s more broadly comic than his other teen films, but you still get a fair bit of emotional heft from Cameron’s paternal woes. And the fantasy concept of skiving off school and having the greatest day of your life is one that remains deeply appealing regardless of your age. If you can’t get or have already seen Planes, Trains and Automobiles, get your hands on National Lampoon’s Vacation (1989). The story of an eager dad trying to give his family the best holiday possible was such a huge hit, it spawned three sequels, a Superbowl ad, an in-canon reboot, and a made-for-TV spinoff. (Are you one of the seven people who has seen Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure? Let us know in the comments!)
The Hidden Gem: Want to see something off the beaten path, a title rarely mentioned when people talk about the films of John Hughes? Then you should track down Career Opportunities (1991). Sure, it doesn’t quite fit the remit of “gem”, but it certainly qualifies as “hidden”. A more grown-up version of Home Alone, the film focuses on an ambitious but lazy young man who becomes the overnight custodian of a department store on what ends up being the most fateful of nights. It’s a fun watch, but still more a curiosity than anything else: an example of how the formula that made Home Alone work can so easily not work if some of the elements are tweaked too far.
The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Daina Reid talking the films of John Hughes, will be released on 31 August 2018.