Unless you cut the mass media umbilical cord this week, you know writer/director John Hughes died. Raise your hand if the news brought a flood of images to your mind and quotes to your lips. Okay, slowly bring your hand down and pretend to brush your hair behind your ear. Otherwise, people are going to think you're a freak smelling your armpit. I know, humor and death shouldn't share a bunk-bed. But dang it, John Hughes was funny.And all about character. And honest at the core. His movies never descended into pure parody. RIP and thanks for the delight.
Who can forget in Planes Trains and Automobiles how a cash-strapped Del (John Candy) tries to score a room at the Braidwood Inn by doing the Vanna White with his Casio watch? And jeesh, I heard "Donger need food" from Sixteen Candles at least a bazillion times this weekend. They're pretty small bits, but sticky bits. Burrs. By the time you walk out of Hughes movie, you're covered in the things.
Okay, I need more burrs in my writing. I've overdosed on GMC. Plotted my pants into a wad. Fixed the POV shifts (oops, I almost typed a naughty word instead of shift). But I need more burrs. More really memorable moments. So, who better to study than Hughes. His movies seem to work mostly by flinging one after another of those prickly suckers at your socks.
I watched Sixteen Candles with an eye to how Hughes does it. To start, he uses a normal character to keep things grounded. Everybody identifies with Samantha, the nice but not va-va-voom looking girl, who wants the super-hot hunk (the premise of every romance). Her life is populated by the usual assortment of stereotypical characters -- jocks, geeks, grandparents, the foreign exchange student. Not much of a story here. Every agent in the world would pinch her nose at this one. Ready. Aim. Recycle pile.
But Hughes plays up the absurdities of his supporting cast. The jocks all look alike. The geek not only dances like a spaz, but he's so self-involved he doesn't notice when Sam ditches him. The grandmother "feels up" Sam's budding chest and the bathroom's still unusable 30 minutes after grandpa was reading in it. The foreign exchange student, who seems merely blandly strange at first, turns out to be a sex machine.
How these people inflict their weirdness on Sam is what makes the movie and its point -- a teen feels the whole world, except the guy she has a crush on, is just kind of stupid. We believe and enjoy it all because Sam is so real. Never once, even during the over-the-top party scene where the rich boy's house gets trashed, did I grumble "yeah, right."
My writing isn't comedy, but I do think there's a lesson here about not being afraid to use stereotype to advantage in building character. Heck, Jane Austen is the all-time mistress of it.
Release your inner Donger. Give him food.
So, do you have a favorite John Hughes memory?