Dear Mr. Vernon: We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. And what we did was wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are:


With these lines, delivered in the affecting final scene of The Breakfast Club, the essay had already been written. In 1985, John Hughes, dead by cardiac arrest today at 59, obviated the adolescent need for reflection. He wrote, with a very reasonable accuracy, who we thought we were.

A Steinbeck for the white, young and middle class, Hughes drove through the dustbowl of teenage misery with economy and force. That he was also largely responsible for the features Curly Sue and Maid in Manhattan does not diminish his bequest.

Nor does the fact that anyone (anyone? Bueller?) born after 1980 is unlikely to make sense of his name. His gift to teen cinema abides. Bathroom comedy impresario Judd Apatow told the Los Angeles Times last year, “It’s pretty ridiculous to hear people talk about the movies we’ve been doing, with outrageous humor and sweetness all combined, as if they were an original idea. I mean, it was all there first in John Hughes’ films.”

This fusion of filth with compassion is evident in the decade’s best Outsider flick for teens, the Apatow-produced Superbad. The surprise of Molly Ringwald’s stolen knickers is eclipsed by the lube monologue of fellow redhead Jonah Hill.

Nonetheless, the winning formula of sweetness tempered by shock is a Hughes patent.

It was Hughes alone who dragged mainstream teen cinema from the sermonising rut first quarried by Where The Boys Are. In this 1960 morality tale, Midwest co-eds are punished for promiscuity and rewarded for good sense.

Hughes-Muse, Molly Ringwald, was never rebuked for her silliness. Hughes’ hyper-real hero, Ferris Bueller was, in fact, rewarded for his cheerful sloth:


And it was Hughes who delivered us from Porky’s. Along with a hint of sex, there was substance.

Hughes, who died today while walking in Manhattan, will be remembered for his defining work, The Breakfast Club. Despite coy innuendos and jokes about sushi, the film remains an outstanding portrait of adolescence. Hughes was well into his thirties when he wrote and shot his one-set drama.

Fortunately, by then, he hadn’t grown up.


Peter Fray

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