#90 - Don't You Forget About Me
1950 - 2009
Hi, everybody! Welcome back to the Electric Theatre. Unfortunately, I don’t have any new theatrical reviews for you this week. I was a little bit busy and the weekend’s new releases didn’t inspire me to find the time. Believe it or not, the thought of going to see G.I. Joe didn’t exactly rise my cobra. It may be a blessing in disguise, however, because I’d like to instead dedicate this week’s column to John Hughes, who passed away last week at the far-too-young age of 59.
John Hughes was a truly gifted comedy writer, launching his career in the early 80s by writing the screenplays for Mr. Mom and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But it wasn’t until he started directing his own screenplays that we really learned what a John Hughes movie was. If you were a teenager in the 80s (or at least a white middle-class teenager), John Hughes’ movies probably connected with you like no other teen comedies before or since. Hughes knew comedy inside out and never lost sight of the fact that his movies were first and foremost supposed to be funny. But amidst all the gags and stylistic flourishes, Hughes had something to say. And unlike most other filmmakers working in his genre, he had something to tell us. He never talked down to us and he wasn’t aiming his movies at his generation, reaching back to invoke an older memory of what it was like to be in high school. John Hughes was talking directly to us and telling us that what we thought and cared about mattered.
Hughes wasn’t a particularly prolific director but the run of films he made from 1984 to 1987 is a remarkable achievement, starting with Sixteen Candles. The movie is jam-packed full of memorable scenes, unforgettable characters and quotable dialogue, all in a slim 93 minutes. And while it’s extremely funny, it still manages to be remarkably observant, particularly in its depiction of the middle-child-syndrome that Molly Ringwald’s Samantha Baker suffers from. Of course, the movie that nearly every 80s kid sees as a touchstone is Hughes’ next film, The Breakfast Club. The Breakfast Club reflects absolutely no one’s actual high school experience. But the five characters (played so well by Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy) aren’t stereotypes. They are well-written, clearly defined archetypes and as such, everyone could see a little something of themselves and people they knew somewhere. The Breakfast Club represented what we all wanted high school to be like. It spoke to a feeling that the people we thought were our closest friends may well be fading from our lives forever very soon and we may have more in common with the people we never speak to than we think. The movie is a realistic high school fantasy that resonates even today.
Hughes made a quick U-turn away from realism with his next two movies. Weird Science seems like something of a toss-off but it remains very entertaining, especially Bill Paxton’s performance as Chet. In its own way, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is just as much of a fantasy as Weird Science. But it might also be Hughes’ most delightful movie, full of great dialogue, unforgettable scenes and top-notch performances. And again, Hughes sneaks in a quietly profound message: “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
My own favorite of Hughes’ movies is 1987’s Planes, Trains & Automobiles. I once read an interview with Steve Martin where he claimed this was the best script he’d ever been sent. I can believe it. This is a small miracle of a movie, perfectly crafted, skillfully directed and beautifully acted by both Martin and John Candy. Every scene is a gem. I’m always jealous of people who have never seen this before. I don’t watch it every year but I do screen it every couple of years around Thanksgiving and I’ve never been disappointed.
After Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Hughes essentially opted to focus on making movies aimed at the younger set. He stopped directing after Curly Sue in 1991 and wrote screenplays for movies like Home Alone and 101 Dalmatians. I’m sure it was lucrative but creatively, his work no longer spoke to me. Still, I always hoped that he’d return to the director’s chair at some point and make another movie for those of us past puberty. That’s a greedy thing to wish for but it’s also a testament to how fondly I, and so many others, look back on those movies from the 80s.
You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned many of the movies he wrote and produced, for the very good reason that I haven’t seen a lot of them. These include Pretty In Pink, Some Kind Of Wonderful, She’s Having A Baby (which he also directed), The Great Outdoors, Career Opportunities, Dutch and others. Let me know if I’ve missed out on something great and I’ll include it in a future installment of Tales From The Queue. Until then, on behalf of all the brains, athletes, basket cases, princesses and criminals who found so much of ourselves in your movies, thank you, Mr. Hughes. You will be missed.
TALES FROM THE QUEUE
I vaguely remembered this movie being released back in 1988 but hadn’t heard much about it since. Consequently, I was a little surprised when I received it as a suggestion for TFTQ. Sure, Jeff Goldblum is a terrific actor with something of a cult following but Vibes? Really? Well, I’ll try anything once.
Goldblum actually gets second billing here behind Cyndi Lauper in her film debut. They both play psychics: Lauper’s Sylvia Pickel is a medium in communication with a spirit named Louise and Goldblum’s Nick Deezy is psychometric (he gets information by touching objects). Peter Falk hires them to travel to Ecuador under the pretense of finding his missing son. Naturally, Falk is lying and is really searching for a lost Incan city of gold. Turns out there is no gold, however, but a pyramid bursting with psychic energy and an evil scientist (Julian Sands) has hired another psychic (Googy Gress but you’re forgiven if at first you think it’s Andy Richter) to track it down.
It’s pretty obvious that Columbia Pictures hoped to have another Ghostbusters on its hands with Vibes. They didn’t and part of the problem is the much, much lower budget which didn’t allow for effects more special than streaky waves of psychic energy. The script, by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, isn’t up to the level of Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ work on Ghostbusters, either. Cyndi Lauper acquits herself well and Jeff Goldblum is in full eye-popping eccentric mode but neither of them is quite able to rise above the material. Peter Falk, on the other hand, is capable of rising above and does so repeatedly. I don’t know if this is an official movie rule or not but it should be: any movie with Peter Falk in it can’t be all bad. I thought some of Vibes was kind of cute but all of the biggest laughs came courtesy of Falk. He’s genuinely funny and almost single-handedly makes the movie worth checking out.
Unfortunately, Vibes peters out in its last act and limps to the finish line instead of saving the best for last. Even so, it’s kind of an amusing 80s curio with a truly oddball cast (even a young-looking Steve Buscemi appears briefly as Cyndi Lauper’s sleazy ex-boyfriend). If you’re feeling nostalgic and want to program a mini-festival of movies featuring 80s pop stars, Vibes is about a zillion times better than Madonna’s Shanghai Surprise and Who’s That Girl. (* * ½)
Thanks to Dan Peters for this week’s Tales From The Queue recommendation! As always, please let me know if you know about a movie that deserves another shot at immortality. And despite this week’s totally awesome column, it doesn’t even have to come from the 1980s!