Monday, May 04, 2015

7 Days in May | Some Kind of Hughesiful

Pretty in Pink (1986)

This year is the 30th anniversary of The Breakfast Club, so we went to a special screening at a local theater. It got us interested in John Hughes again and talking about later movies that were inspired by his work. Which got me wanting to watch them again.

I always forget that Pretty in Pink wasn't directed by Hughes, but it was written by him. For whatever it's worth, he's also an executive producer on it, but it's the writing that makes it a Hughes film. I was shortly out of high school when it came out and totally related to the characters. Not so much the rich/poor caste system they experience, but the obstacles they encounter in their quests for love and the frustrations they have in trying to overcome them. For Andie (Molly Ringwald) and Blane (Andrew McCarthy), it's peer pressure as represented mostly by Steff (James Spader). As much as I like Duckie Dale (John Cryer), Steff is his closest competition for my favorite character in the movie. There is no douchier character in fiction, but the combination of Hughes' writing and Spader's performance elevates Steff above a villainous stereotype and makes him a believable, but tragic character with understandable, if reprehensible motivations.

As for Duckie, his obstacle to love is the simple fact that Andie doesn't feel the same way he does. Sadly, as a teenager I most related to him, but I was also encouraged by the way he's more or less honest with Andie about his feelings. He uses humor to make them seem less intense than they are, but I wasn't even that brave as a kid. There's a reason that OMD's "Secret" was an especially resonant song for me back in the day.

Which leads me to the music. I was very much a New Wave kid, but before Pretty in Pink, my access to that genre was limited by what made it onto our town's Top 40 station. The Pretty in Pink soundtrack introduced me to The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, and other bands that I'd missed, leading me down numerous musical rabbit holes that I'm forever grateful for.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

I wanted to also rewatch Some Kind of Wonderful, which is essentially a gender-swapped remake of Pretty in Pink with the ending "fixed," but I'd loaned out my copy and didn't get it back in time. Instead, we watched a couple of later movies that are very much in the John Hughes wheelhouse. Meaning that they're funny, touching, and insightful looks at what high school is like.

First up was 10 Things I Hate About You, the adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew that launched Heath Ledger's career and should have done the same for Julia Stiles. Why isn't she in more stuff? Anyway, since the movie's following Shakespeare's plot and not conventional romantic comedy tropes, it's wonderfully convoluted (without being confusing) and doesn't follow the typical romcom structure. Yes, there's a point at which an obstacle is thrown in the way of young love, and yes, it has to do with a deception perpetrated by one of the leads early in the relationship, but the obstacle comes up very late in the story and isn't resolved at all in the usual way.

Instead of the deceiver - in this case, Ledger's character - having to make a grand gesture to atone for the mistake, the situation is pretty easily resolved by the fact that Stiles' character is obviously in love with him, which makes her prone to forgiveness. She's also smart enough to understand why he did what he did before he really knew her and how that doesn't necessarily mean he'll keep doing it. After all, she gets the whole idea of behaving badly as a form of self-protection.

That's what I love so much about this movie. Both characters have self-protected themselves right out of society and it's beautiful seeing them slowly lower their defenses with each other. Unlike most romantic comedies where we're asked to root for the couple simply because they're likable and cute, 10 Things I Hate About You builds sympathy for its leads by making them angry, painful messes whom we want to see find acceptance and companionship in each other.

Easy A (2010)

Watching Easy A shortly after 10 Things, I realized what it is that I still like about a great teen comedy all these many years since I graduated. Loneliness and feeling like an outsider isn't something you completely grow out of. I have a ridiculously happy family life, but even then I'm occasionally susceptible to feeling a bit on my own. It's just human nature. And even when I don't personally feel that way, I'm sympathetic to those who do. So stories about loneliness and the experience of being an outsider are powerful. And high school is a perfect setting for those kinds of stories, where those themes can present themselves at almost cartoonish levels without feeling implausible.

10 Things I Hate About You is about a pair of self-imposed outsiders who find acceptance in each other without compromising themselves. Easy A is about a girl who doesn't want to be an outsider, thinks she's found a quick route into the group, but ends up even more ostracized than before. She has to figure out what she's going to do about that and in the end reaches the same conclusion that the 10 Things leads do. She says "screw it" to trying to fight her way into a group of people who don't want her and instead finds acceptance in someone else who's made the same decision. Way easier to do in the movies than in real life, but it's still a powerful and important message.

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