If I didn’t know you at all, and I wanted to share a piece of my preteen years with you, I would say these names – Duckie, Andie, John Bender, Ferris, Blane, Lloyd Dobler, Watts.
Would you know exactly who I mean? Would you flash back to being 13 or 16, in a movie theater or at a friend’s house, in back of a classroom quoting lines? If you were a kid in the '80s, you would.
I just finished reading a book about the Brat Pack by Susannah Gora called “You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried” and it dusted off fond day-glo memories.
Not only does the book give you all the behind-the-scenes dirt (Molly Ringwald wanted Andie to end up with Duckie only if he had been played by Robert Downey Jr. Did I just blow your mind?) but she talked to the stars today.
So I reached out to her to get some more color on the whole John Hughes genre, and to better understand my adult take on these movies.
Most of the time, we don’t recognize the significance of a moment until it’s behind us and we’re weighing it against the present.
That’s basically the reverse of being a teenager, when every look, sentence, glance and moment is life-or-death.
In the '80s, there was no refresh button, so everything pretty much happened in real time or it didn’t happen at all.
But the Hughes movies and the Brat Pack in general were definitely a moment, one that was felt at the time and that still resonates for a lot of people who grew up with them. I
In fact, Gora credits her career as a film journalist to the impact these films made on her, saying “I first saw 'The Breakfast Club' when I was 13 years old, and it changed my life.”
I was only about eight or 10 when the movies came out, and because my parents were strict, I didn’t get to see any of them in the theaters. But I was lucky enough to have friends with lax adult supervision and VCRs.
By the time the movies were on Sunday afternoon TV, I was old enough to figure out the edited out words and recite the lines verbatim.
Fast-forward a quick few years to when I could actually see these movies in theaters and while teens still had deep feelings that overwhelmed us, we also embraced edgy irony, in "Heathers," "Pump Up the Volume" and "Reality Bites."
While I can’t name a character from any of the last three (although I can quote from "Pump Up the Volume" pretty extensively thanks to my crush on Christian Slater), they also marked the end of my teen years.
When you catch one of these movies by chance on cable, in some ways they don’t really stand the test of time.
The acting ranges from awkward to average, and the writing seems to be trying way too hard to be cool.
It’s strange to realize that the lines you quoted as a 15-year-old were written by a 35-year-old man, who grew up with the Beatles yet identified with 15-year-olds.
If he weren’t the screenwriter, this would sound like an episode of "To Catch a Predator."
The clothes are hilarious, as they are in all '80s movies, and the hair is an anthropological study.
The music, although dated, always resonates with me, and it wasn’t surprising to discover that, according to Gora, oftentimes Hughes worked from the music back to the script.
The stories themselves don’t mine any new ground and seem obsessed with money and class to the point where the outcasts literally live on the other side of the tracks.
Yet, even watching just a few minutes, I’m transported to a particular time, to a mood, to the memory of being a teen which manages to combine a feeling that is simultaneously awkward, uncomfortable, sweet, embarrassing and almost painfully sincere.
It’s that seriousness that sets these movies apart.
Gora points out that “the '80s youth films were revolutionary because they took teenagers and their problems seriously [and] respected what teenagers are going through — whether their problems were heavy or relatively light, the movies treated the problems like they mattered, which made us feel respected as viewers.”
I can count on one hand the movies that as an adult, have resonated in the same way. Maybe it’s that being a teenager is a universal feeing but being an adult is a more fractured, complicated existence, something that everyone experiences differently.
But I also think the things that you experience as a teenager linger much longer because they hit you at that time in life when you’re wide open and absorbing everything around you, when you have such a thin skin that every moment reverberates directly inside you.
My life didn’t resemble any of those movies, in any way, so when I try to figure out what it is about them that sticks with me, it’s tough to pinpoint.
Gora notes that “'80s teens were fortunate enough to be able to focus their attention inward … (they were) passionate, misunderstood, restless and looking for something that could be their own … the movies were made for us, but in a sense, we were made for them as well.”
The importance of the Brat Pack movies themselves fades, but the impact they made on our teen selves doesn’t.
Even though they’re dated artifacts, they’re still part of the time capsule of being a teenager. And because they mattered to the person I was then, they’ll always have a place in my Duckie-loving heart.