The Films of John Hughes
Sixteen Candles (February 13/12)
John Hughes' directorial debut, Sixteen Candles follows teenager Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) as she attempts to overcome a series of obstacles and difficulties on the day she turns 16 - with Samantha's troubles compounded by the realization that her entire family has forgotten about her birthday. Hughes, working from his own screenplay, does an expectedly stellar job of initially luring the viewer into the proceedings, as the filmmaker front-loads the picture with tremendously likable characters and an emphasis on scenes and sequences of an irresistibly engrossing nature. It's only as the film moves into its episodic midsection that Sixteen Candles begins to lose its grip on the viewer, as the unabashedly plotless atmosphere results in a palpable lack of momentum that only grows more and more problematic as time progresses. And though the characters remain affable and compelling throughout - Ringwald's star-making turn is, all these years later, just as potent as ever - Hughes' lackadaisical sensibilities ensure that the movie does begin to demonstrably peter out somewhere around the half hour mark. By the time the anticlimactic and needlessly silly third act rolls around, Sixteen Candles has firmly established itself as a sporadically amusing yet hopelessly uneven endeavor that simply isn't in the same league as Hughes' later classics.
The Breakfast Club
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (December 29/12)
One of the funniest films ever made, Planes, Trains & Automobiles details the wacky road trip that ensues after a fastidious ad man (Steve Martin's Neal Page) on his way home for Thanksgiving is forced to team up with a garrulous traveling salesman (John Candy's Del Griffith) on the journey. There's little doubt that Planes, Trains & Automobiles' most potent weapon is the performances from both Martin and Candy, as the two actors slip into the shoes of their respective characters to a degree that's simultaneously spellbinding and entertaining - with the palpable chemistry between the pair, which is, from start to finish, impossible to resist, elevating the movie above its similarly-themed brethren on an impressively consistent basis. And while the film is absolutely jam-packed with laugh-out-loud funny bits of comedy (Neal and Del's hotel stay, Neal's encounter with a perky car rental agent (Edie McClurg), etc, etc), Planes, Trains & Automobiles contains an undercurrent of heartfelt drama that's been seamlessly integrated into the narrative by Hughes - which ultimately does ensure that the movie is often as touching as it is hilarious. (This is especially true, of course, of the heartwrenching stretch that closes the film.) The predominantly flawless atmosphere is, admittedly, hindered slightly by a very minor lull towards the end, with the sequence detailing Neal and Del's drunken shenanigans at a ratty motel going on just a little longer than perhaps one might've liked. This is a minor complaint for a film that is otherwise completely captivating and engrossing from start to finish, and it's ultimately worth noting that Planes, Trains & Automobiles still holds up remarkably well in the decades since its 1987 release.
She's Having a Baby
A rare failure from filmmaker John Hughes, She's Having a Baby follows newlywed couple Jake (Kevin Bacon) and Kristy (Elizabeth McGovern) as they attempt to survive the first few tumultuous years of their marriage. Writer/director Hughes' efforts at infusing this outwardly dramatic story with random bursts of broad comedy results in a distinctly uneven vibe, and there's little doubt that the presence of such elements ultimately undermines the more serious elements within the filmmaker's screenplay. (That the majority of the movie's jokes and gags fall completely flat certainly doesn't help matters.) As good as Bacon is here, he's essentially playing a jerk; Jake comes off as inattentive and self-involved, and it's virtually impossible to understand why he and Kristy are even still together (a problem that's exacerbated by the woefully underdeveloped nature of McGovern's character). Were it not for the inclusion of several Hughes staples (eg the film transpires in the fictional town of Shermer, Illinois), She's Having a Baby would hardly be recognizable within the context of the filmmaker's otherwise solid body of work.
Uncle Buck casts John Candy as the title character, an irresponsible yet loveable ne'er-do-well who is asked to care for his brother's three kids (Jean Louisa Kelly's Tia, Macaulay Culkin's Miles, and Gaby Hoffman's Maizy) for a few days - with the film subsequently detailing Buck's irreverent attempts at keeping the trio in line. Filmmaker John Hughes certainly does a superb job of initially establishing the off-kilter situation and the sharply-drawn characters, with Candy's thoroughly engaging and ingratiating work going a long way towards immediately capturing the viewer's interest. There's subsequently little doubt that the movie's plotless vibe is, at the outset, not problematic in the slightest, and Hughes' ongoing emphasis on Buck's episodic exploits - eg he takes the kids out for a night of bowling, he meets with Maizy's stern principal, etc - proves instrumental in cultivating and perpetuating the film's breezy, affable atmosphere. It's only as Uncle Buck passes the one-hour mark that it begins to fizzle out to a minor degree, as Hughes' meandering modus operandi becomes increasingly difficult to overlook - with the underwhelming nature of Buck and Tia's ongoing battle of wills exacerbating the movie's less-than-engrossing feel (ie Tia simply isn't as compelling a sullen female protagonist as, say, Jeanie from Ferris Bueller's Day Off). Still, Uncle Buck is, for the most part, an agreeable comedy that benefits substantially from Hughes' undeniable gift for seamlessly blending laughs with drama.