John Hughes' movies end with freeze frames. These are moments (Bender thrusting his fist in the air in The Breakfast Club; Samantha kissing her dream boy in Sixteen Candles; Ferris Bueller knowing he's opened his best friend's eyes; John Candy's warm grin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Uncle Buck) where characters found the satisfaction they craved.
The Breakfast Club is the most explicit, but all of Hughes' movies were about unlikely friendships breaking social barriers. His high school movies (along with Amy Heckerling's Fast Times at Ridgemont High) are benchmark teen comedies in film history. They recognized adolescence as the time when everything is still possible, before careers limit one's social order. Hughes wrote the math for the teen genre, first by respecting teens.
Since his death last week, Hughes (who hadn't directed since 1991's Curly Sue) has been subjected to the usual media treatment of a dead icon. Pundits are saying too much but not enough. What's overlooked is his filmmaking skill. Hughes was only at his prime for four years. But from 1984 to 1987, he directed teen-genre mainstays Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and the grown-up comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and wrote the middling Pretty in Pink and the sublime Some Kind of Wonderful. He connected to young pop sensibility better than anyone. His narratives took teenage longings for affection seriously. The insights weren't sappy because they were arrived at through smart writing and visual sophistication.
Hughes claims to have shot Ferris Bueller's Day Off in wide-scope format because it, like its title character, seemed inappropriate. The movie reaches its apex in a montage of the trio seeing its desires reflected in the Art Institute of Chicago.
If the real Hughes related most to Ferris, he had the empathy to see the other side of the coin. The arc in Ferris Bueller really belonged to eternally bummed best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck). Sure, the Principal in Breakfast Club is a louse, but the Janitor is offered two surprising moments of understanding.
Hughes knew a certain milieu very well. Although his biggest hit (he penned Home Alone) came after his peak, the magic had started to fade. Uncle Buck is OK for kids, but patronizes the teenagers he used to vindicate. After Curly Sue, Hughes wrote mainly children's comedies, under a pseudonym, including Beethoven and its sequels.
It's a bitter ending for a remarkable career. Fans have eulogized on the internet about how Hughes got them through their teens, making them feel they weren't alone. It's not the point that Hughes' scenarios weren't what high school was like. They were emotionally real.