The Breakfast Schlub

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apatow.jpgBesides the fact that I'm a week late, there's really no reason that I should be saying dick about the life and work of John Hughes.  I say this not because I'm biased against him or I need to disclose some sort of precondition that makes me ethically ineligible to pass judgment in this particular situation.  I say this because I'm a rare case: I'm probably one of a small handful of pop culture obsessed near-thirty year olds who has a very minor relationship with his work; either I was too young or too sheltered in my youth, but his work never meant a great deal to me.  Sure, I've seen the Breakfast Club and I've seen Ferris Bueller, but I haven't seen Pretty in Pink in its entirety and have seen maybe 60% of Sixteen Candles total after about twelve attempted viewings, on VHS and cable.  It might be sacrilege, but I kind of hate his films, or at least they mean nothing to me.  But that doesn't mean that they aren't totally representative of their era; in fact, my dispassion for them might validate how iconic they truly are.

It took me a while, ten years at least, to put my finger on exactly what it was about Hughes' movies that I found so off-putting, and I'm still not even sure about it.  At first, I just found them off-base; I never identified with Ferris Bueller, in fact, I thought he was mostly an asshole.  He's a liar and a cheat, he's got a smoking hot girlfriend, but he still takes time out of his life-saving mad dash home to flirt with two chicks sun bathing in bikinis, introducing himself to them like he was gonna sell them a used Honda.  Also, he's a really shitty friend and there's simply no call for treating Cameron the way that he does; I mean, he's playing with someoneelse's life with the whole Corvette bit (they could have totally returned it to Cameron's dad's garage before heading into the city), not to mention the fact that Cameron starts out the movie legitimately sick, like full-on flu sick.  Plus, what's the point of reveling in Senior year if you aren't going to college?  Honestly, the whole movie never made sense to me.  Also, I don't know why people don't talk about it as being nothing more than a PG rated version of Risky Business.  It's just really derivative, if you ask me.

But Ferris Bueller is really a lesser work, a trifle.  It's the Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink that are the true pillars of Hughes' career.  They represent his major themes, especially the class issues that drive the subtext of his work.  The poor girl trying to win the heart of the elite guy, the downtrodden trying not to be victimized by the affluent.  Because, let's face it, he's not telling stories about race in the lily-white Chicago suburbs.  Hughes' lone attempt at putting a non-white character on the screen resulted in one of the most obvious and blatant stereotypes, Long Duck Dong.  Whether Hughes excludes race almost entirely because it's true to his experiences in that the time and place or because of a darker choice, class dominates every Hughes film.  That and geekiness, of course.  And maybe just a dash of sadism.  This really does make them the epitome of their time.

In a certain way, I probably should pay more attention to them, and I don't mean to be totally tearing down Hughes' work, because his work does mean a lot to a lot of people and his films very much deal with the class issues that the country faced in the 80's.  The more rigid class structure that the 80's engendered is on display everywhere in these films, from Cameron's dad's Corvette to Jake Ryan's dad's Rolls Royce, from Claire Standish's "family name" to everything that James Spader does and says in Pretty in Pink.  Even the stereotyping of Long Duck Dong and all the characters in the Breakfast Club are representative of a time when "type" was more important than anything else.  Look at those five kids: they are types only, not characters.  That whole spiel works perfectly - "a jock, a nerd..."  They write that little bit to Principal Vernon about how he sees them in "the most convenient terms" but Hughes saw them that way too, because that time did.

I was thinking about some of this stuff a few hours after I saw Funny People last weekend.  Judd Apatow's third film is his first venture into serious fare, and moves him from a guy who's made a couple of successful comedies (plus the two failed televisions shows) to potentially be, like Hughes, a generation-defining comic auteur.  Certainly for me, as an urban Jew, his films have been much more watchable than Hughes' work and much closer to home.  But I don't want to compare one set of films to the other, they exist separately from each other and shouldn't impact each other artistically speaking.  However, in terms of cultural relevance, there are some comparisons to be made.

Like Hughes' work, Apatow's films exist embedded within a very specific demographic.  Funny People and Knocked Up are both deeply rooted in Jewish (mostly) LA showbiz (mostly) culture, as are two recent Apatow-produced films Forgetting Sarah Marshall (a vacation from that life) and Pineapple Express (under-appreciated as an action movie satire).  Unlike Hughes' however, this world can't stand in for any place in America.  The Chicago suburbs of Hughes' works are generic totally and completely, as are the characters and their problems.  This is a large part of what makes them so universally appealing: Any geek can see himself in Anthony Michael Hall's characters even if they haven't date raped a rich blond girl or concocted a model in his bedroom to do his bidding.  Apatow's work is much more specific and it's kind of curious that his movies have been so successful.  How can a set of films about these specific characters be universal, generation-defining even?

With little generalized about the situations in these films, regardless of their quality, it's not immediately self-evident that these films do define their generation, at least not in the way that something like the Breakfast Club consciously sets out to do.  But they are generation-defining because of this specificity, because we are no longer a class-based society, so much as we are an interest-based society.  The geekiness, the comedy life style, even the Jewishness all work to both set Apatow's characters apart from the whole and make their experiences universal at the same time.  This is especially true in Funny People, as the work relationship between Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen's characters that spirals into something way too personal is totally representative of work-is-life attitude that so many have, and might even be required these days.  As well, the film deals with the messiness of today's hook up culture that Apatow first also showed us an unintended consequence of in Knocked Up and was also was dealt with in The 40 Year Old Virgin.  When you also consider the topical nature of the large chunks of dialogue, there's everything undeniably "now" about Apatow's films.

But that might not make them generation-defining, it might just make them popular and, let's say it, especially applicable to me.  I guess the question is: what will make these films last, what will make them endurable the way Hughes' films have been?  Honestly, I don't know.  It's impossible for me to answer that question since I find Hughes' work generally lacking.  But it's probably the case that quality doesn't speak to the power of his films for so many people, it is closeness that counts.  Because Apatow's films also let the audience get up close to the characters, he might have a shot to be remembered as having shaped sensibilites twenty years from now.  Or maybe his films, because they so much represent this exact time and place, will be totally dated in five.  Either way, knowing Apatow, there will be some sort of ruckus involved.  Can you describe the ruckus?

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