John Hughes, the director of such classic 1980s films as The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Weird Science, Uncle Buck and Home Alone died today.
During my teenage years, Hughes' movies ruled the screen, and he captured on film more than anyone else what it was like for young people growing up in Reagan's America. His youthful characters showed a malaise coupled with bittersweet optimism that was so rare in cinema. A child of Middle America, his films encapsulated Middle American sensibilities at the same time showing a metamorphosis that teenagers go through.
Out of all his works, it is The Breakfast Club that is the signature Hughes film for me. Encapsulating an entire day of in-school detention, the film shows the personifications of five unique high school cliques: the nerd, the jock, the bully, the popular girl and the basket case and unites them. The movie explores that despite their varying backgrounds and places in the high school hierarchy, each student is going through the same thing. They are experiencing the pangs of teenage years, of social pressures, of peer pressure and parental pressure. They are stuck in the molds fashioned for them and by the end of the film they see each other not as cliched high school tropes but as peers going through the same journey.
Watching The Breakfast Club recently, I was reminded what a talented director Hughes was, to tell such a story with talented young actors who make you feel that their troubles and struggles of adolescence is something real. In the past, movies about teenagers portrayed young people as goofy malt shop stereotypes or rebellious rioters clashing the gong against society's norms. The Breakfast Club had stereotypes, too, but Hughes made the students probe deeper and explain that not all is rosy under the surface, even with the so-called "popular" cliques.
Hughes became one of the story tellers for Generation X, and through his films my generation saw something real and honest about growing up.