How does anyone who grew up with the movies of John Hughes begin to talk about the influence he’s had on them? I can vividly remember the first time I saw each of his movies and the indelible impression the films made, but from there it gets complicated. His movies seemed to infiltrate my life, sticking to everything they touched. The soundtracks became the soundtracks to countless other memories, the one liners and random references were used day in and day out, and eventually they weren’t just movies – they were part of me. I can’t just tell a story about one of his movies – I can recount a history. I may have discovered The Breakfast Club in elementary school, but it factored just as prominently in my junior high years…and high school, and college. Truth be told, I woke up under a Breakfast Club poster this morning. I am thirty-two years old and it hangs over my bed to this day.
There was a light bulb moment sometime in seventh grade when I realized that the same person had made all of the movies I loved, and for the first time I thought beyond what I saw onscreen to what took place behind the scenes. Uncle Buck made me want to write a screenplay. At age thirteen I began piecing together a vehicle for myself and John Candy (an angsty father-daughter thing in which I would have bitterly rejected his new girlfriend, possibly played by Jamie Lee Curtis). It still pains me that we lost John Candy before I was old enough to pitch it. I literally feel that I need to go to the Holy Cross Cemetery and talk to him about it – that’s how serious I was about growing up to realize this dream. I fully credit John Hughes and John Candy with the fact that I’ve got a different near-finished screenplay saved in this very computer.
In thousands of little ways, John Hughes is responsible for who I am. Pretty In Pink assured me that it was okay to be unique (and Andie’s fashion sense blew my mind). Ferris Bueller convinced me that “life goes by pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” Christmases are spent with the Griswolds. Thanksgiving means Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and I spent this 4th of July with Uncle Buck. It just seems right to invite these characters back into our lives on a regular basis. They are our friends, They are our family members. They are us. Through his work, he has single-handedly entertained, comforted, and inspired me for the better part of my life, and I know I’m not alone. He had the same effect on an entire generation.
Trying to break down the relationship we’ve all had with his films is a lot like dissecting his talent. For years I tried to understand what it was that made him so great. Ostensibly his films seem rooted in the mundane (a Saturday morning spent in detention, a family road trip, a school dance, or a holiday), but he managed to take the familiar and elevate it to something monumental. He blended slapstick comedy with gallows humor and wit to keep us laughing, then he’d take a poignant turn and leave us reaching for the Kleenex. His movies have made me cry just as often as they’ve made me laugh out loud, but what is that? What was that thing he did? I finally had to stop taking it apart and admit that he had simply captured life–in all its complexity–onscreen. He just got it. He knew what it took to make the universal seem intensely personal, and as I sit here typing this with tears in my eyes, I feel as though the loss of this great writer is mine. You probably feel the same, and it seems that even in death, his genius is at work.