The release of the comedy Drillbit Taylor last weekend has sparked a rather curious phenomenon, a resurgence in interest in the films of John Hughes and in the writer/director himself, who hasn’t been seen in Hollywood for over a decade now.
While in a production deal with Paramount Pictures, the man behind Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Weird Science had cranked out a number of story treatments, Drillbit Taylor included, that simply sat around the studio waiting for someone to develop them. (Though for Drillbit Taylor, he receives screen credit under his old pseudonym of Edmond Dantes.)
With Drillbit Taylor, that someone turned out to be Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow. Both are becoming rapidly known for becoming to comedy films today what Hughes was in the mid-1980s, creators of comedies that balanced raucous humor with an undertone of sweetness and a keen understanding of what being a teenager is like.
Back in the 1990s, Hughes shifted his focus from teen comedies to more family friendly fare such as the Home Alone series, Beethoven (1992) and Disney’s live action 101 Dalmatians (1996) before withdrew from filmmaking and retreating to the confines of northern Illinois. His representatives routinely refuse media requests for interviews and his long absence has lead Kevin Smith, who used Hughes’ mythical Illinois town of Shermer as a plot point in Dogma, to call him the “J D Salinger of our generation” in a recent LA Times piece.
Although some may be quick to poo-poo that particular idea, I think Smith is on to something. Both created works with teen characters who felt alienated from the world around them and how they refuse to bow to the pressures of other’s expectations. Those of us teens who sat in darkened cinemas in the mid-1980s identified with the various characters stuck in Saturday detention in The Breakfast Club, hoping that others would see beyond their preconceived notions of whatever social clique we were in. We all wanted to stand up and tell the world to see us as how we were, not how they wanted to see us. We wanted a friend whom we could ditch school and have an awesome day off with. His characters became cinematic friends and we wonder where they are today.
Hughes’ influence on a generation of filmmakers is obvious in the works of Apatow, Rogen, Smith and others. His films have also become such a part of the American cinematic consciousness, that the upcoming documentary American Teen has copied the Breakfast Clubs iconic poster for its own advertising campaign. With this one simple poster, American Teen shows to a potential ticket-buyer that it deals with some of the same themes that Hughes worked with.
It seems indisputable to me that parallels can’t be denied between Hughes and Salinger, even looking past their shared retreat into hermitage. Salinger’s Catcher In the Rye continues to be read today, more than four decades after its publication. Factor out the 1980s clothing and hairstyles and John Hughes’ films still hold up today, watchable and relatable for a new generation.