John Hughes: King of the 80’s teen flick

Art & Lit Screen

If there were any teenage boys by the end of the Eighties who didn’t want to be Marty McFly, they probably wanted to be Ferris Bueller. In 1986, John Hughes, a man who couldn’t leave his teen angst behind him, stepped behind the camera to helm his fourth film: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The irresistible Ferris (Matthew Broderick in a Golden Globe nominated performance) decides that skipping school eight times in a semester isn’t enough – he needs another day off.

Broderick’s performance is famed for ‘breaking the fourth wall’, making the film a fitting choice for an immersive screening. However, the event also follows an ongoing tendency of referencing ‘80s movies in current film and TV: Mark Schwahn dedicated a themed episode of his US show One Tree Hill to the memory of John Hughes, and Will Gluck’s 2010 comedy Easy A is packed with allusions to the work of Hughes and his contemporaries. The relative failure of remakes Fame and Footloose compared to the longevity of popularity enjoyed by the originals and other hits including Sixteen Candles and Dirty Dancing suggests that earlier filmmakers expressed the throes of adolescence better than their 21st century followers.

While the outfits and slang may have dated, the insights are timeless. This is because writers/directors like Hughes and Joel Schumacher (creator of the underrated St. Elmo’s Fire) were not afraid to put a group of actors in a room and just let them talk. When the dialogue is snappy, the characters rounded and relatable, and the actors as talented as the likes of Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson and more Brat Pack greats than there’s space to mention, audiences don’t need visual gimmicks to engage them. These films are remembered for exuberant musical and gymnastic set-pieces – EE adverts prove Kevin Bacon is still cashing in on his in 1984’s Footloose – but the long-lasting impact comes from hard-hitting monologues like those shared by the characters of The Breakfast Club.

‘80s teen movies are unashamedly melodramatic, but watching them prepares us for life’s inevitable disappointments while allowing us to laugh at the same time. Not only is fun consistently poked at authority figures (Ferris’ Ed Rooney and The Breakfast Club’s Mr Vernon), but more importantly, the underdogs win every time; Pretty in Pink’s Cinderella figure Andi Walsh (the iconic Molly Ringwald) snags the school stud (shame he’s not worth the effort), and Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future changes history so Marty’s dad can overpower the repulsive Biff.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off encourages us to take a well-earned day off once in a while, because ‘life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it’.