I'll confess it's difficult to mourn the passing of John Hughes. For one obvious reason, I didn't know him. To me, he was always an adjective. "John Hughes" described a type of movie.
A John Hughes movie had something important to say. A John Hughes movie often dealt with teen alienation and the absurd battle for acceptance, acceptance from peers and parents. A John Hughes movie introduced the viewer to a world of humorous stereotypes and then fleshed them out until they were beautifully nuanced three-dimensional characters. Think of Duckie in PRETTY IN PINK (written by Hughes, not directed). Think of Cameron Frye in FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF. Think of every single character in THE BREAKFAST CLUB.
A John Hughes movie is incredibly funny, but deceptively moving as well (SHE'S HAVING A BABY). You are likely to miss the point of a John Hughes movie depending on your perspective. As a teenager, I was outraged Duckie never got together with Andie Walsh. As an adult, I absolutely get it. The movie might be one of the most mature movies on the subject on young love (Just because you have things in common with someone, it does not obligate anyone to love you the way you love them). Likewise, with SIXTEEN CANDLES, if you juxtapose the wedding to the final scene between Samantha and Jake (you can also throw in the morning-after scene with Farmer Ted and Carolyn) you get a deeper statement on our expectations for the possibility of romantic love. I'm not making this stuff up. It's there.
The movie snobs may scoff, but I believe THE BREAKFAST CLUB is one of greatest screenplays. I reference it repeatedly in my Creative Writing class. It is a flawless movie, amazing structure. It behaves like a stage play, but was crafted for the screen. Only a John Hughes movie could integrate a cheesy dance number and still make it work. Claire Standish and Allison Reynolds doing that dance in the library is the most adorable two seconds in film history.
John Hughes had many imitators. "80s movies" became a genre in itself, primarily because of Hughes. Most copycats were mindless teen comedies, which failed to understand the respect John Hughes showed to his young audience. Even the good copies fell short. SAY ANYTHING, written and directed by Cameron Crowe, had the obligatory wacky graduation party. It had all the Hughesian archetypes. The movie shifted to a deeper message. Even still, the ending was too heavy handed and the comedy was forced. Yes, I dare challenge SAY ANYTHING. (It wasn't until JERRY MAGUIRE that Cameron Crowe found his voice as a director.)
John Hughes wasn't a genius. Actually, he might have been. I don't know. However, anyone who could write and direct the way he did, who could work with young actors and bring out such performances, had to be an amazing person. His movies are on my shelf. To say "John Hughes is gone" doesn't quite fit into my brain. What do you mean? He's right there (as I point to my DVDs). Fact is I didn't know him, but he knew me. And I think that's what made him great. He really understood how his characters felt and it perfectly mirrored his audience. Whenever we forget what it's like to be a teenager, to be young adults on the verge of needing everything "figured out," his movies are a reminder.