Wednesday, June 17, 2009

John Hughes Lessons Learned

Ed. Note: This post sort of relates/responds to this one over at Women and Hollywood from last year.

Know what's frightening? This pink dress is waaaaay better than the one from Pretty in Pink.

In this Judd Apatow, Todd Phillips, Gregg Mottola movie world of man child comedies, these coming of age stories where no one ever seems to grow up, what's a thinking woman supposed to do? Often pegged as misogynistic and sexist, the products from a handful of male directors in the past few years have caused many a blogger and reader to wax poetic about the glory days of American coming of age comedies or that era of our nation's history that could well be referred to has The Hughes Years. Sure, he's of the male faction of the species, but one that often put female characters (or at least the same one that Molly Ringwald always used to play) in the center of the these funny and earnest Midwestern high school dramedies. Ah, those were the days.

It was a simpler time of preppies, freaks, dropouts and jocks. A place different than trashy R rated comedies that litter our current landscape (sort of). In Hughtopia, teens struggled through issues of class, peer pressure and sex all while battling to stay true to themselves. It was a time of label defying, air-punch dancing and carefully applied bottom lid eyeliner. Sure, Hughes is the dude that created the Brat Pack, but he also wrote 3 National Lampoon movies, the Home Alone flicks, all the Beethoven pics and Mr. Mom. But, there is much to be reflected on in these modern classics that sprouted during 4 magical years in the mid 80's - a time when hair was getting bigger, pants were getting peggier and Michael Jackson was obviously getting whiter.

(Settle in folks, this is a long one.)

Hughes Lessons Learned:

Sixteen Candles (1984) - Written by Hughes, Candles is his directorial debut featuring a redhead named Samantha (Ringwald), a brace-face funny man (Anthony Michael Hall) who is only referred to as "The Geek" in the credits and a hot guy as the Rich Hot Popular Guy. Lesson? - Basically if you hang around and whine and avoid speaking to the guy you like, but give your undies to a geek, he'll show up at the church after your drugged up sister's wedding to a bohunk and give you an awesome birthday present 'cause he's rich and he doesn't have to spend the day cleaning up after his wretched friends trashed his parents house. You are #1 in his book which makes up for how badly your family has been treating you lately. In short, knight in shining armor shows up with minimal effort from princess.

The Breakfast Club (1985) - Also double duty by Mr. Hughes, TBC is much loved by generations of people who were once young and went to a really swanky high school (huh, that's me!). In this film we learn that the goth chick can easily bag the star wrestler after the popular bitch has done a proper make over, the popular bitch just needs a trouble making asshole to date to set her straight and nerds are people too. Phew, that clears high school politics right up.

Weird Science (1985) - Wow, busy year for Hughes, as he manages to crank out one of the silliest blendings of sci-fi and raunchy teen comedy genres ever attempted. This one is about two nerds who create a hot lady out of nothing by electricity and wearing bras on their heads, teaching us that if you're smart enough you can essential pay a woman to love you instead of just waiting to date in college when youu'll have a better shot at getting some.

Pretty in Pink (1986) - Penned by JH, Pretty in Pink brought us the folks from the other side of the tracks - a teen seamstress named Andie, a retro punk named Duckie and an old lady that they hang out with. Oh, and we are also made to think that Andrew McCarthy is a better choice than James Spader - which is, I guess true in the film, but man...that Spader is still hot...and terrible, a terrible terrible person. Anyway, lesson learned: I'm not really sure. How about, even if your boyfriend's rich but his rich friends are real assholes (and he is too kinda), if he's relatively interesting, you should stick with him 'cause in the end he's rich and your dad's a total alchy.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) - Seriously, did JH even sleep between 1984 and 1987? I think this whole movie takes place in Matthew Broderick's head. I didn't really learn anything from this one except that high school girls (Ferris' g-friend Sloan) are more desirable if they look like 30 year olds.

Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) - The last of his series of teen flicks, SKOW takes another risk - Hughes replaces his female redheaded protag with a male redheaded protag. Man, we were so hot back then, us carrot tops. Anyway, lesson learned: Don't worry, spunky rocker chick, your bff will soon find out that dating the popular girl is way to much work and he'll realize he loves you because you're not going a
nywhere anytime soon.

Wow, such wisdom. No wonder I had no trouble at all being an awkward, smart, odd and quirky red haired youth - I had Hughes' vision of teenagedom to guide me. No trouble at all...

And then, there's Apatow.

I guess he's the Hughes for today's youngsters? I re-watched Superbad the other night. (I also watched like 3 hours of Golden Girls, but that's for another post.) And you know what? It's a good movie. For every "vag", "vagtastic", "she wants my dick in and around her mouth", "all I'm saying is that she looks like a good fucker" and "pussy" this and "pussy" that, it's got some really quality shit about growing up and what being a bff is really all about.

Here's some touching dialogue as Evan and Seth check out the dirty mags at the convenience store before class.
Seth: Look at those nipples.
Evan: They're like little baby toes. It's just not fair that they get to flaunt that stuff, you know... and like, I have to hide every erection I get.
Evan: Just imagine if girls weren't weirded out by our boners and stuff, and just like wanted to see them. That's the world I one day want to live in.

I wish I had known that boys felt this way. Growing up, it really never occurred to me that hiding inappropriate boners could possibly be traumatizing. They don't teach you that in health class, or maybe they do but who the hell pays attention in health class? I don't find this stuff offensive. I even thought Knocked Up was cute. Why would a hot chick contemplate staying with a schmoe like Seth Rogen? Because it's a frickin' movie. Nobody cares about two well adjusted and respectful average looking people who make the conscious decision to bare a child. That would make for a boring movie. I hear Away We Go is about two nice people about to have a baby, but they offset that with a wacky roadtrip and wacky friends and family to make it not boring.

Anyway, back to Superbad - there's that whole "I love you" scene at the end, come on...that's deep.

I can't even begin to cover the vast resource of amazing writing and humor that was Freaks and Geeks which focused around a brother and sister as they navigate respectively through two very different cliques. I like Judd Apaptow and the most of the comedies that have been made because of his success (except Observe and Report which Apatow did NOT make). I like them because they are funny, crude, silly and often honest and heartfelt. This doesn't not make me a bad feminist, even though a lot of them lack female leads. If I had Superbad and Freaks and Geeks when I was a, I'm not sure how much difference it would have made, but it would have been something. But, rarely ever does one's current experience get simultaneous cultural validation. Except for My So Called Life, which was on at the same time I was in high school, was freakishly accurate sometimes and had a redhead leading lady.

I read lots of blogs aimed at the ladies and while most of the time I find them to be provocative and very necessary
in bringing to light some of the heavier themes of the Interweb and lady life, I also get a little bored with them. Yes, women have been oppressed since, um, we climbed down from the trees (and probably before that) and we continue to be in subtle ways. But, I don't think being a man today is easy either. "The Man" or the Patriarchy at large screws everybody over. Funnily enough, "The Man" now includes ladies and minorities on their staff, so it's even more complicated than before. I also don't know why Judd Apatow is the focus of all this blogger frustration. He's just making movies from his POV. Woody Allen has been doing it for so long that people have sort of stopped wondering what he's up to, they just assume he's making more movies.

Yes, women don't get props at the box office and are basically categorized into only a handful of roles: The Hot Chick, The Hot Chick Disguised as a Smart Chick (wears glasses sometimes), The Mom and the Foul-mouthed Grandma. Oh, and of course there's The Side Kick Reporter/Investigator/Adventurer, The Damsel in Distress that Also Kicks Ass and the Slightly Masculine But Still Hot Heroine That's Also Slightly Scary. Classic Molly Ringwald just doesn't fit into any of these contemporary categories. And women behind the camera - they're few in numbers despite the large amount of women in the business. Hmmm...quite a puzzler. Perhaps the few women in charge are not yet ready to challenge the system for fear of being blacklisted by the powerful boys club? Being a Hollywood outsider, I have no idea if this is true, but it doesn't seem unrealistic.

But, I have to believe that it is changing - mostly because it totally is. I didn't like Juno, but it exists and it's a departure from the norm. I missed the Humpday screening yesterday and am so bummed. Check out the trailer if you haven't yet. Tina Fey's Mean Girls was a smart and funny homage 80's high school comedies. TV is filled with female leads - 30 Rock, Parks and Recreations, all those stupid crime shows, Bones, Dollhouse, that Terminator show, that Patricia Arquette one, and that Jennifer Love Hewitt ghosty one (I actually only watch 2 of the shows listed). And look at TNT, not to mention premium cable - The Closer, Saving Grace, Weeds, United States of Tara, etc (again, I don't watch any of those).

Women are leaders behind the scenes in Hollywood and the Indie realm - equal number to men? No, not yet, but it's certainly an upward trend. There is so much stuff going on, you know what it makes me want to do? Not dwell on just the lack of women in Hollywood but the quality of the work getting made. I don't want movies and TV to get made because women wrote or directed them - I want good movies and TV. I want the best people for the job and yes I would love it if more ladies could make that happen. Is it harder for women to break in or be considered for these gigs? I'm sure it is, but we as a group are pretty fucking resourceful and have manged to break nearly every glass ceiling "The Man" has constructed. I would trade in Bride Wars, Mamma Mia, Confessions of a Shopaholic, He's Just Not That Into You and pretty much any of those frickin' films specifically aimed at me as vagina possessor for one good comedy with a female lead. I'm still waiting for what Baby Mama should have been. (Sorry, Tina and Amy, my love for you has not waned despite BM missing the mark.)

So, how about we take a break from pointing out everywhere that women are not and focus on where it's working and what needs to be done to raise the bar for what is getting produced? In the meantime, I'll keep trying to let you know which movies suck and which don't, regardless of the estrogen and/or testosterone count.