4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) Written & Directed by John Hughes
This is the rarest of films in that it is loved and adored by millions of people across the world. It’s like the cinematic equivalent of a song that is known everywhere and people know all the words by heart. Anyone of any age can identify with the story, that of a person wanting to take a day off from life.
The story concerns the titular character and his efforts to take a day off school. Not much of a story to be told, but it’s the way that Hughes depicts it that makes it soar.
Aided by a piece of brilliant casting in the form of Matthew Broderick, Ferris, while super confident and charming, never comes off as arrogant or insufferable. As the secretary of Ferris’ school says, rattling off the different stereotypes that populate it, they all adore him and think he’s ‘a righteous dude’.
Contrasting the antics of Ferris in a rather striking way are two other aspects of the film. Cameron (Alan Ruck) is the best friend of Ferris and the polar opposite of him in regards to character and personality. Morose, sickly and depressed about life in general, Ferris always challenges him and, in effect, inspires him to become a better person. It also highlights the damage that parents can do to their children. Although we never meet Cameron’s father on screen, the fact that he cares more about his prized Ferrari than his own flesh and blood speaks volumes.
Also, Principal Rooney (a priceless Jeffery Jones) is almost pathological in his attempts to bust Ferris. The film’s skewering of the adults that populate the school that Ferris attends is something to behold, particularly the economics teacher with the distinctive monotone voice, played by real life economist Ben Stein.
Here’s a funny story for you. Years after “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was made, Stein had a run in with none other than Nirvana main man Kurt Cobain. Apparently, Cobain ran up to Stein with a big, cheeky smile on his face and began chanting the classic “Bueller…..Bueller…..Bueller” role call to him. Who said Kurt didn’t have a sense of humour?!?
There are many joys to this film-any scene with Jennifer Grey as Jeannie, the sneering younger sister of Ferris, is absolute gold. I don’t want to give away too much for those that had never had the pleasure of seeing it, but one of the highlights is the way that Ferris ‘breaks the fourth wall’ in cinematic terms and, on several occasions, talks directly to camera. In lesser hands, this would have come off as incredibly pretentious.
However, in the hands of Hughes, it works like a charm, endearing you to this character immediately. It also pays off in an unexpected way. I’ll just say this. Stick around during and after the end credits. It was a beautiful way to finish a truly inspired film.
5. Pretty In Pink (1986) Written by John Hughes. Directed by Howard Deutch
Handing over the directorial reins to Howard Deutch, “Pretty In Pink” was the first film that Hughes had written that explicitly looked at the class structure in both social and economic terms within a high school.
Andie (Molly Ringwald) is the girl from the more poor side of town who falls in love with one of the rich kids at her school, Blane, played by Andrew Mc Carthy. This prompts feelings of ill will on both sides, represent by Andie’s best friend Duckie (an iconic Jon Cryer) and Steff, the sleazy best friend of Blane, played by an actor that would define ‘sleazy’ for decades to come, the one and only James Spader.
Intelligent, funny, heartfelt and, at times quite touching, “Pretty In Pink” is one of the strongest of the films in the Hughes canon in the way that it looks at the point in time when young people are about to take that jump into the real world and the way that economic and social factors that will undoubtedly be part of adult life are starting to form and encroach upon the latter years of high school.
Again, this is a film that doesn’t neglect its older characters. Iona (Annie Potts), the record shop owner and Andie’s dad Jack, played with immeasurable cool by Harry Dean Stanton, are a welcome inclusion and influence in Andie’s life and how she chooses to live it.
This is an incredibly perceptive film about making that transition from teenager to adult, and one that holds up incredibly well nearly thirty years since it was made. The clothes and hairstyles might have changed a bit, but some things never do.
6. Some Kind Of Wonderful (1987) Written by John Hughes. Directed by Howard Deutch
Once again letting Deutch direct, Hughes plays something of a gender reversal to “Pretty In Pink” in this criminally underrated film.
Eric Stoltz plays Keith, a young man with a passion for art. This clashes with the wishes of his dad Clifford (John Ashton), who wants him to go to college and make something of himself, things that he never got the opportunity to do.
Throw into the mix Keith’s plans to date one of the most popular girls in the school, Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson) and the fact that his best friend, tomboy Watts (the adorable Mary Stuart Masterson) adores Keith, you get a really complex picture of the life of the modern teenager.
Again, like “Pretty In Pink”, this takes a long hard look at social and economic factors of the lives of the young. While playing at being popular and hanging out with the rich kids at her school, Amanda is, in fact, one that lives in the poorer part of town. There’s also the fact that her rich sleazebag of a boyfriend (Craig Sheffer) is constantly two-timing her.
Somehow slipping under the radar at the box office upon release, “Some Kind Of Wonderful” is an absolute gem of a film waiting to be discovered by more lovers of cinema, particularly those who connected strongly with the previous works from this director.
Honorable Mention: She’s Having A Baby (1988) Written & Directed by John Hughes
Although “She’s Having A Baby” doesn’t deal with the plight of the teenager per se, I’ve included it for the fact that it details and discusses life after high school and the next steps, namely marriage and parenthood, that, as people, we take in our lives.
Stepping back into the director’s chair, this was obviously a highly personal work for Hughes. The story details the lives of Jake and Kristy Briggs (Kevin Bacon and the striking Elizabeth Mc Govern), a young couple finding their feet in the highly busy and ever-changing world around them.
This is a strong comedy-drama about hitting that ‘jumping off’ point from being a teenager to becoming an adult, and the changes and responsibilities that involves. Again, like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, this features some highly effective ‘breaking the fourth wall’ moments where characters talk directly to the audience, coupled with fantasy sequences that shine a light on this transition period in life.
Again, like “Some Kind Of Wonderful”, this is a complex and intelligent work that somehow missed a stronger audience upon release. Seen now, it still has a great deal to say about life, marriage and parenthood.
Author Bio: Neil is a journalist, labourer, forklift and truck driver. In a previous life, he was a projectionist for ten years. He is a lifelong student of cinema.